Buckhead bike plan could squeeze traffic flow

One of Atlanta’s signature streets is due for a makeover that is likely to result in less room for traffic and more room for bikes.

On Peachtree Road through Buckhead, motorists could lose a lane of travel in each direction to make way for a new center turn lane and a 4-foot-wide bike lane on each side.

Plans to transform Peachtree Road have met with controversy since they were proposed last fall. Strenuous opposition came from drivers who feared subtracting automobile lanes would add up to more congestion. A passionate bicycling community argued in favor of the need for bike lanes at public hearings this past winter.

Initially, the plan recommended by the Georgia Department of Transportation was to add bike lanes along the entire corridor from Deering Road just north of the Downtown Connector up to Pharr Road.

However, the debate prompted transportation planners to return to the drawing board earlier this year.

If GDOT’s new recommendation is well received, the project could be completed by the end of next year at a cost of about $1.2 million.

The newest proposal unveiled Tuesday would only add bike lanes to the southern portion of Peachtree Road through Buckhead. They would stretch from Deering Road to Peachtree Battle Avenue.

From Peachtree Battle to Pharr Road, the northbound travel lanes would still be narrowed from three to two to squeeze in a center turn lane. The southbound traffic would remain three lanes wide.

Provided the project is approved, the section of Peachtree Road that extends another half-mile north from Pharr Road to Shadowlawn Avenue would be reconfigured similarly, but paid for by the Buckhead Community Improvement District at a cost still to be determined.

Compromise or half-measure?

Howard Shook, who’s on the Atlanta City Council and the Buckhead CID board, said the new plan is much better.

“It strikes a compromise between people who vehemently think they should be about cars, cars, cars and only cars, and a passionate bicycle community,” Shook said.

The plan is a step in the right direction, said Jim Durrett, director of the Buckhead CID and an avid cyclist. He said he was especially pleased that the bike lanes will allow people to travel north from the center of Atlanta to the Beltline on Peachtree Road. From there, a bicyclist will be able to pedal eastward along the Beltline to the PATH 400 Greenway if they want to continue north into the commercial core of Buckhead.

Others are still unsatisfied with the revised proposal.

Jim Cosgrove, a north Buckhead resident, said the plan is “less damaging than the old one, but still damaging.” He said subtracting a lane of traffic in each direction would only worsen congestion on the only viable commuting corridor through north, central and south Buckhead.

“We still have thousands and thousands of (residents who live in) single-family homes in Buckhead, of which I am one,” Cosgrove said. “And those residents depend on Peachtree Road to get to work, to school, to church, to the grocery store, to Piedmont Hospital. Everything we do in our lifestyle is threatened by further congesting Peachtree Road.”

Cathy Muzzy, president of the Peachtree Park Civic Association, said many of her neighbors are bicycle commuters. She is concerned about the bike lanes stopping arbitrarily near Peachtree Battle Avenue.

“If they are going to do bike lanes, do them all the way or else don’t do them at all,” Muzzy said.

Many bicyclists are scared of riding on Peachtree Road, so they ride on the sidewalks, which is illegal, said Buckhead condo resident Jeffrey Kirsch. Walking isn’t pleasant either, Kirsch said, because the sidewalks butt right up to the busy road.

Bike lanes would not only provide a safer path for cyclists, they would act as a 4-foot buffer between sidewalk pedestrians and traffic.

“It’s kind of what you want for the city,” Kirsch said. “To have it look like a mini-Buford Highway, that’s not what I want when I think about Peachtree Road.”

A dangerous design

The conversation about reconfiguring Peachtree Road started as a safety initiative because the road’s current configuration is dangerous, state transportation planners say. The six-lane road through Buckhead is evenly divided with three lanes traveling north and three south, but it lacks a center turn lane.

Drivers needing to turn left on Peachtree Road come to sudden stops as they wait for a break in oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, drivers behind them in the far-left lane who want to continue going straight often get backed up unless they can dart into an adjacent lane.

Because of the risky conditions, the far-left lanes are used by only 15 percent of the drivers on the corridor.

And not surprisingly, the poor design causes a large number of wrecks — 801 just between 2009 and 2013, according to GDOT records. Of those 801 wrecks, 11 involved bicycles and 42 involved pedestrians.

More bike lanes planned

The Peachtree Road bicycle lanes are part of an ambitious plan unveiled by the city of Atlanta in 2013 to double the number of bike-friendly lanes by the end of 2016.

One of the most high-profile projects completed in December 2013 is similar to the Peachtree Road project. It involved subtracting a lane of automobile traffic in each direction to construct a wider center turn lane and add bike lanes on each side of busy Ponce De Leon Boulevard.

The result seems counterintuitive, but the statistics are clear — the east-west avenue now actually handles more traffic than before. Where previously 30,000 vehicles per day traveled on Ponce, it now handles about 34,000. Transportation planners like to call that increased throughput.

“We feel like this (Peachtree Road) project can increase throughput on the corridor,” said Andrew Heath, “We’ve seen that actually happen with Ponce. Pretty consistently month over month, we’re pushing more vehicles through.”

At the same time, the number of collisions have declined significantly from a high of 559 in 2013 to 418 the following year.

The city is still 36 miles shy of its goal to have 120 miles of bike paths or shared lanes by the end of 2016, said Jonathan Lewis, assistant director of planning for the city of Atlanta. However, several projects recently completed or in the works are expected to bring the goal within reach.

They include:

  • Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail a 3-mile corridor to be developed on the Atlanta BeltLine’s southwest side. It will run from University Avenue in Adair Park north to Lena Avenue at Washington Park.
  • The Portman Cycling Track, a lane separated from traffic by flexible plastic delineators that will run a half-mile along John Portman Boulevard from Piedmont Avenue to Centennial Olympic Park and tie into the Stone Mountain Trail.
  • The Southwest Beltline Connector-Lionel Hampton Trail, which links Benjamin Mays Road and Willis Mill Road to the Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail (under construction) through the Utoy Creek Natural Conservation area.
  • Luckie-Tech Parkway, a separated bike and pedestrian path on Georgia Tech Parkway and Luckie Street that runs into Centennial Olympic Park.

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