Gwinnett’s ‘Great Exchange’ explores transportation possibilities

Around a conference table Tuesday morning at the Duluth law firm Andersen, Tate & Carr, the conversation ranged from insufficient traffic light synchronization to Gwinnett County’s glaring lack of a monorail.

“We dream about that,” said Mike Mason, the Peachtree Corners mayor, after one person mentioned how nice a monorail would be as an alternative to I-85.

From how likely Gwinnettians were to try to make a cross-town trek to a Braves game in Cobb County (not very, they say) to whether Gwinnett has any walkable areas (some, but not enough), the conversation at the law firm is one of hundreds about transportation that are taking place across Gwinnett this week.

As part of a program called The Great Exchange, local leaders are trying to engage those who live, work or pass through Gwinnett about where they wish they could get to more easily and what transportation issues they would fix if they could. Volunteers are leading in-person conversations and encouraging people to text in to a survey about transportation. (To participate, text “JOIN” to 74029.) Organizers hope more than 50,000 people will participate by the end of the week.

What comes next isn’t clear. Chuck Warbington, who headed the program, said the project is aspirational. He doesn’t want people to think about money or the likelihood of that monorail — just to imagine what they would improve in the county.

Warbington, the executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, said his goal, for now, is simply to gather a wide range of opinions about what needs to change.

The Tuesday morning conversation, part of the Council for Quality Growth’s advisory meeting, brought together engineers, lawyers and elected officials to talk about their own pet peeves when it comes to getting around.

For one, it was the 33 traffic lights he passes on on Pleasant Hill Road, and how many of them he has to stop at. For another, it was the lack of east-west connectors. A third lamented the inflexibility of express buses for people who only need to spend half the day downtown, and yet another said he wished there were safer ways to ride a bicycle in the county.

“I want better access to the things I want to do,” said John Karnowski, a traffic design group manager for the engineering and consulting firm Mulkey, who lives near Gwinnett Place Mall. “I can’t really walk out of my neighborhood. There’s no way to do that.”

Marian Adeimy, an Andersen, Tate & Carr attorney who chose to live near the north-end Perimeter for the reverse commute, said she doesn’t feel safe walking around her office. Her comments about a lack of mass transit brought a chorus of suggestions to add it along I-85 and Ga. Highway 316.

“We’re going to be the one county without subway of some sort,” Adeimy said. “It’s very short-sighted. We’ll get left behind.”

Access is about more than just getting to and from Atlanta. Mason, in Peachtree Corners, said traffic plays a role in whether people want to stay in his city, and therefore what business comes.

“Walkability and transportation are direct limiters on economic development,” he said.

Dacula mayor Jimmy Wilbanks said a local retiree he talked to Monday lamented the fact that there is no train or bus access near her home. Though she still drives, she would like alternatives. The Dacula area is served by park-and-rides that go downtown, but not by the Gwinnett County Transit system for local travel.

The conversations are happening throughout the week, throughout Gwinnett.

Angela Murchison, who parks at the Indian Trail Park/Ride to take the Xpress bus to her job in Atlanta, said she saw something about The Great Exchange on Facebook Monday. Murchison, who has been riding the bus for three months, said she’d like to see traffic improve. The conversation, she said, is a “great idea.”

“They need to have us involved,” she said. “We’re the ones who drive every day.”

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