Petition seeks reconsideration of Decatur bike lanes project

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 14, 2015
W. Ponce De Leon Avenue. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

W. Ponce De Leon Avenue. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Local cyclists want the city of Decatur to revisit its plans for bike lanes along Commerce Drive.

On Sept. 8 the City Commission approved installation of bike lanes on Commerce Drive between Clairemont Avenue and West Trinity Place. Commissioners also approved an agreement with Trammell Crow Residential in the amount of $69,000. TCR is developing the Alexan residential development on Commerce Drive.

According to the memo attached to the Sept. 8 meeting agenda, “The City is to pay for the bike lanes between West Ponce de Leon and West Trinity Place. This project was included in the Alexan development plan approved by the City Commission in February, 2014. The total cost of the improvements is $165,000.”

Two local cyclists say the plan is fundamentally flawed.

Tonio Andrade and Joseph Hurley have created the petition and are circulating it among other cyclists. 

“The main problem is that (the plans) make no attempt to physically separate bicycle and automobile traffic,” the petition says. “Cities like New York, Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and, yes, Atlanta, have recognized the necessity of physically-separated bike lanes and are now focusing their attention on building such lanes.”

The petition also criticizes how the plan for bike lanes treats two intersections along the road: Commerce and Clairemont and Commerce and West Ponce de Leon.

“In the former, the bike lane stops just before the intersection,” the petition says. “In the latter, the bike lane is crossed by southbound automobile traffic turning right onto Ponce from Commerce. Bike lanes should not simply dissolve, particularly at intersections, because intersections are where people in cars are most likely to injure or kill people on bikes.”

In an email to Decaturish, Hurley said the cycling community wants bike lanes on Commerce.

“The current plans are for painted bike lanes with no protective barriers,” Hurley wrote. “While we certainly want bike lanes on Commerce Drive, simply painting bike lanes on the street will not create safe cycling infrastructure.”

Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon responded to the petition on Monday afternoon.

“The proposed bike lanes are similar to the existing bike facilities on West Ponce de Leon Avenue, West Trinity Place and Commerce Drive south of Trinity,” Saxon said. “… The project is consistent with the City’s Community Transportation Plan, includes traffic calming features and helps convert Commerce to a ‘complete street.’ The plan was prepared using design guidance from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which is considered the authority for these types of transportation facilities.”

Saxon’s full response is reprinted at the end of this article.

Here is the full text of the petition, provided by Hurley:

Jim Baskett, Commissioner

Patti Garrett, Commissioner

Bill Bolling, Commissioner

Fred Boykin, Commissioner

Scott Drake, Commissioner

City of Decatur

509 N. McDonough St.

P.0. Box 220

Decatur, GA 30031

12 September 2015

Dear Mayor Baskett and Commissioners Garrett, Bolling, Boykin, and Drake:

We, the undersigned, are writing with regard to the plans to create bicycle lanes for Commerce Drive submitted to the city on 3 September 2015 by Hugh Saxon, Deputy City Manager. We are pleased that the city has undertaken to install bicycle lanes on this roadway, and we applaud your commitment to active transportation. Commerce Drive needs bike lanes, and the total budget of $165,000 should certainly be ample to create lanes that will protect cyclists and make them feel secure. Unfortunately, the plans as currently laid out are deeply flawed.

The main problem is that they make no attempt to physically separate bicycle and automobile traffic. Cities like New York, Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and, yes, Atlanta, have recognized the necessity of physically-separated bike lanes and are now focusing their attention on building such lanes. (See “Inventory of Protected Bike Lanes” by People for Bikes.) Research has shown that separated lanes not only provide more physical protection; they also provide a feeling of security, which encourages more people to get on their bikes, creating a virtuous cycle. (See “Protected Bike Lanes 101” by People for Bikes.)  The goal is to make bike lanes that are safe for all people to use. Mere paint does not suffice. This is particularly true for roadways as busy as Commerce Drive.

So we call upon the City of Decatur to revisit the plans and modify them in such a way as to provide physical separation for the bike lanes as much as possible. Ideal practice is curbs or surface grading that elevates the bike lane. We would be satisfied with vertical bollards in this case. They are certainly not ideal, but they do provide a level of security, which is why the City of Atlanta is using them in its new bike infrastructure, as in the 10th Street lane and the Peachtree Center Avenue lanes.

A second problem with the plans involves the two intersections of Commerce and Clairemont on the one hand and Commerce and West Ponce de Leon Avenue on the other. In the former, the bike lane stops just before the intersection. In the latter, the bike lane is crossed by southbound automobile traffic turning right onto Ponce from Commerce. Bike lanes should not simply dissolve, particularly at intersections, because intersections are where people in cars are most likely to injure or kill people on bikes.

So we also call on the city to redesign the bike lanes at these two intersections. The city of Davis, California, made national news when it installed the country’s first true bicycle intersection. Salt Lake City has also made national news with a similar plan. The City of Decatur could similarly achieve a position of leadership within the region and perhaps nationally if the intersections in these plans were truly designed for people riding bikes. In any case, no plan is complete that does not get people on bikes safely across intersections.

The total cost of the plan as currently drawn is $165,000. We believe that if this much money is to be spent, the infrastructure should come up to current best practices, providing physical separation for bike lanes and bike-safe intersections. It would be a terrible waste of money to carry out the plans because as currently drawn few people will feel safe on them and therefore the bike lanes will rarely be used.

Once the city modifies the plans, however, and installs truly effective, separated bike lanes, it will create a safe bicycle environment for families, including our young children, regaining its leadership as a bike-friendly city (it might even gain a silver certification in the Bicycle Friendly Community rankings).

We look forward to working with you to improve our city. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Tonio Andrade

Andrea Andrade

119 W. Dearborn Circle

Decatur, GA 30030

Joseph Hurley

Stefanie Wuertz-Hurley

208 Shadowmoor Drive

Decatur, GA 30030

The petition may be signed by following this link.

Here is the full response from Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon …

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

The Commerce Drive bike lane proposal will provide bike lanes on Commerce Drive between Clairemont and West Trinity Place and will connect with the existing bike lanes on Commerce south of Trinity.  The proposed bike lanes are similar to the existing bike facilities on West Ponce de Leon Avenue, West Trinity Place and Commerce Drive south of Trinity.

The concept was approved in early in 2014 as part of the development plan for the Alexan residential development.  The Alexan developer is putting in the new bike lanes between Clairemont and WPDL, with the City filling in the gap between West Ponce de Leon and West Trinity Place.  The City’s share of the cost is very reasonable.  The project is consistent with the City’s Community Transportation Plan, includes traffic calming features and helps convert Commerce to a “complete street.”  The plan was prepared using design guidance from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which is considered the authority for these types of transportation facilities.

We agree that more protection for bicyclists is safer and would probably encourage more use by families and children. This is a major reason that the City supported the PATH trail along the CSX railroad corridor and is making an investment in protected bicycle lanes on North McDonough Street and Church Street.  Of course, there is a significant cost difference in these types of facilities over what is proposed for Commerce Drive.

Hugh Saxon

Deputy City Manager

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • Catie

    Is there a link to the petition?

    • They just sent over the text of it. I’ve followed up to ask if there’s a place where people can sign online.

  • Barry
  • Frankie&Johnny

    This will probably become a moot point when as projected the majority of Decatur residents will rely primarily on bicycles. Once the ration of bicycles to cars passes that magic 50% mark its all over. We’re already up to something like .025%.

  • Neppy

    Tangential to the bicycle lane issue, but directly relevant to the safety of bicyclists, as well as pedestrians and motorists, is the matter of the speed limit on Commerce Drive, particularly between Clairemont and W. Ponce de Leon. The drawings for the whole road project show a speed limit of 35 mph. This seems excessive, considering the curve on Commerce, the narrowed roadway, and the increased congestion coming to the area. While the City of Decatur leaders seem not to have put into effect their stated goal of lowering speed limits on most streets in the municipality—in which case that stretch of Commerce would be labeled a downtown core street with a speed limit of 20 – 25 mph—this would be a good place to begin implementing that policy.

  • Blackcatprowliii

    These people do not speak for everyone in the bicycle community. True, the proposed {Trammell Crow} design may not be better than it would be otherwise as four lanes. Yet, as a compromise, it is acceptable in this instance. However, some bicyclists, myself included, strongly oppose the design proposed here {above}. As for the speed limit, there is nothing wrong with the present speed limit. A proposal design for Commerce & Clairemont is indeed worse for bicyclists as it eliminates the right turn off, forcing cyclists into the intersection unnecessarily. Bicycles are legally vehicles. Vehicular cycling involves using the road fully in the proper manner. There is not a problem going through this intersection if a person is aware & careful. It is also true that people driving cars need to adjust themselves properly to road design, conditions & circumstances, which have been undermined by poor road design ideas for many years, as well as poor training involving drivers. The design proposed here does nothing to help in this regard. There are side roads right near this section of road~ which, unfortunately, follow poor road design~ but, that aside, do offer those wishing more protected bicycle riding if so desired. ~If there will be no compromise… the will be no compromise. Children & others who lack the ability to ride on through ways should take these routes. Lacking truly intelligent road design, the greatest way to bring knowledge to drivers of cars is through greater awareness that there are other types of vehicles on the road. I am not against bike paths, but I am certainly against protected lanes in this instance. In all likelyhood, they would be too narrow for safety & call for increased attention, making them less likely to be used by regular cyclists, causing a decrease in bicycle ridership, not an increase. The present bike lanes on Commerce work fine. Less bicyclists on the roads will only continue the pervading poor driving skills now exhibited by some drivers. Decreasing the speed limit is, also, a poor idea as it causes a greater liklihood of distraction, & concentration on less important criteria, as well as increasing the closeness of vehicles, which could actually increase accidents & the chance of injury to pedestrians & cyclists. There is no reason for a pedestrian to be in the road at this stretch, when there are two intersections within 300 feet of each other, & it is a curve. It is time for intelligent design regarding the roads & not this well intentioned, yet poorly devised idea that is permeating present road design. As I have said before, if more money is to be spent, build some nice wooden bike bridges by the tracks… DECATUR! emboldly elegant imprinted upon them!

  • Decatur Paul

    Tangential to the bicycle lane issue, but directly relevant to the safety of bicyclists is the fact that Decatur cyclists on one hand want special consideration and on the other think the law doesn’t apply to them.

    I’m sick and tired of, every day, seeing cyclists run red lights and stop signs, ignore pedestrian right of way, ride on sidewalks, and the wrong way up one way streets. Much of the reason cyclists get injured at intersections is because they completely disregard the rules of the road.

    Want to share the road? Then START SHARING THE ROAD and stop expecting the rest of society to make way for you.

    This city spends too much money on this special interest group already.

    • Richard Holcomb

      I’m assuming that since you are lumping all cyclists in together — both those that observe traffic laws along with the scofflaws — that you are willing to shoulder the blame for all drivers that violate traffic laws. I suspect there are considerably more of this latter category than scofflaw cyclists, and they are considerably more deadly on the roadway.

  • jhurley

    There are multiple bicycle communities and our intention is not to present ourselves as representing a uniform community. Instead our goal is to advocate for truly safe bike lanes where an 11-year-old could safely ride. We would like to see bike lanes that are appropriate for all levels of riders and we believe that the best way to achieve this is through protected bike lanes.

    • WC

      Yes, I agree. My son used to ride his bike to school which was a 1/2 mile journey for him. He has had so many close calls from other parents driving their kids to school, that I don’t even let him ride any more. It’s just not safe for him and not worth the risk. And that’s very sad. What could be more fun than riding your bike to school?

  • Leslie Wilson

    I am tired of seeing cyclists pass on the right at a stopped traffic light, run stop signs, etc.. But I am also weary of seeing motorists roll through stop signs, jump green lights, run red lights, not use turn signals, go out of their lane from cell phone talk (or texting), speeding, etc.. Somehow motorists accept drivers circumventing the law, but somehow think that each and every and all cyclists are law breakers. I believe that a percentage of people are the irresponsible ones. It is not every car driver. It is not every cyclist. There are some car drivers who behave and feel like the road is all theirs. And there are some bicycle riders who behave and feel like the road is all theirs.

    I think the real issue here is transportation alternatives. The question is should other modes of transportation be given safe access to the public infrastructure. Should we spend tax dollars to build sidewalks to allow for the safe walking mode of transportation. Should we spend tax dollars to allow a safe lane for bicycles. And should we do this by taking away from what was traditionally or historically accommodating for motor vehicles.

    The debate is not whether a sidewalk caters to a privileged special interest group, or whether a bicycle lane caters to a privileged special interest group. It is whether our city becomes more livable and more viable by making safe accommodation for other modes of transportation. If by installing safe bicycle lanes our city becomes less livable, less fiscally viable, less financially stable, less healthy for its residents, less attractive to visitors, and more miserable to live in – then we shouldn’t build it.

    • WC

      Honestly, it sounds like one of the large problems is lack of enforcement by the police. If cyclists are blowing through red lights & stop signs and so are motorists, why aren’t they being cited? If they were it would change their behavior pretty quickly I would think.

      • Leslie Wilson

        Why aren’t they being cited? For the very reason that I state (above). It is not everybody. It is not a majority of the car drivers. And it is not a majority of the bicycle riders. It is only some of them. And since it is not epidemic, the police are not out intentionally looking for them.

        When a majority of car drivers run a particular red light, then police would be on the ready to hand-out citations there. And if a majority of cyclists ran a particular red light, the same thing would be true. That is why it is unfair to assert that bicycle riders are a menace or a nuisance – because, in reality, they are no different than car drivers.

        But, as I say, when it comes to making transportation infrastructure changes, this is not the issue. If putting-in sidewalks, bicycle lanes or separated bicycle lanes makes things less safe for everyone, makes the city less livable, and makes overall transportation more expensive or more inefficient, then we should just keep the status quo.

  • WC

    In the news I am seeing multiple daily stories of “cycling death / no charges filed” every day now for weeks, months now. Distracted drivers who are killing innocent people without consequences are now an epidemic.

    The 3′ safe passing law has been in place in Georgia for several years now to “protect” cyclists, I would be really curious if 1 citation has ever been issued by a law enforcement officer to a driver for unsafe passing? I am guessing the answer is 0.

    Every time I go out for a ride I have several moments were cars passing me within inches, and some times it is can even be a police car. So clearly this law is not only not being enforced by law enforcement, it is often not even being followed.

    And to fellow cyclists, please be aware that if a police officer runs over and kills you while they are driving and/or texting, they won’t even be cited as it is part of their job description that they can operate mobile devices while driving. Just look at the details regarding the recent death of former Napster executive Milton Olin Jr..

    So, I get it that Atlanta is a car-based society only (and always will be) and you better say your prayers every time you venture out into it on foot or a bicycle as your life is truly not worth much to others.

  • WC

    Georgia needs a hand free cel phone law and it needs to be enforced. Every other driver has their cel phone over their steering wheel and are texting, etc while driving. I remember when you could not modify a car’s GPS unless the car was in park. For some reason all of those safety precautions are now long gone and innocent people are paying for it with their lives.

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