February 8, 2019 Elizabeth Ward

A Tactical Solution for Dekalb Ave

It’s no secret that we are bicycle enthusiasts at KWA; half of our employees are bike commuters, and we also happen to share an office with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. It might be the proximity to ABC, or it might be frustration with the lack of bicycle infrastructure that we see in the city (especially as compared to new car infrastructure or pedestrian bridges), but we have turned from serious bicycle enthusiasts to serious bicycle advocates. Sure, we could say we’ve always been advocates, but this time we decided to kick it up a notch…by pitching a tactical pilot project for Dekalb Ave to the Renew Atlanta team and to the City of Atlanta. We are delighted to say that it was well received as a concept, but now is time for the rubber to hit the road. Literally.

Let’s talk about Complete Streets. These are, by definition, streets for everyone – designed to enable safe access for motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, scooterists, transit riders, etc. Renew Atlanta is currently undergoing “prioritization and re-baselining” to determine how to deliver the initially promised projects, including Complete Streets, with our remaining inadequate budget. As part of this effort, three scenarios are being offered as choices. The first scenario, Complete Streets, is the only scenario that relays the serious need for more than just car infrastructure in our City. In any case, under each scenario, Dekalb Ave has funding for resurfacing (so long, potholes!) and reversible lane removal (finally!). As for the Complete Street, there is only funding for Design of the future complete street, no funding for the actual complete street. That means we are going to use our already inadequate funds to design something that has no future funding source. I don’t want to say it means a complete street won’t ever happen, but I do believe it means it is years, likely a decade, away from being realized. It’s completely unreasonable to ask Atlantans to wait a decade to safely ride a bicycle on Dekalb Ave. We’ve already been waiting decades.

Yes, complete streets are expensive, time consuming and difficult to implement. However, one of the biggest breakthroughs in changing this slow paradigm came from Janette Sadik-Kahn, the former head of Transportation for New York City. She helped pioneer a pilot program approach that involved a lot of paint and restriping to test changes to NYC’s public streets. This approach involved testing reconfigurations of streets using only paint and temporary planters. If it worked well, they would make the changes permanent. If it created a range of unintended problems, they could tweak or eliminate the change (it’s only paint, after all). This loop of “experiment, analyze, optimize, implement” is a highly effective way to tackle big, improbable projects. Pilot projects are a “lighter, faster, cheaper” approach, which happens to be exactly what we need in Atlanta. If we’re going to be repainting Dekalb Ave anyway, why not paint in a bike lane, too?

Flushing Ave before / after in NYC

So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve undertaken high-level analysis and concepting for a pilot project for Dekalb Ave to see how we could get a bike lane now, not 10 years from now.

Let’s talk about Dekalb Ave. It is so much more than a street, it is part of our city’s very DNA. Dekalb Ave follows a major ridgeline, otherwise known as the Eastern Continental Divide. Folks on the southside of Dekalb – your water flows to the Atlantic Ocean. Folks on the northside – your water flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Our country has 5 continental divides, and one of them is right in the middle of our city. I don’t know about you, but I find that fascinating. Because it is a ridgeline, it is a flat area. We have three major ridgelines in our city: Peachtree, Marietta and Dekalb Ave. These were Native American trails before they were roads, eventually becoming the railroads that ultimately led to the founding of Atlanta. Do you know who loves flat land besides pedestrians, roads and railroads? BICYCLISTS. That’s who. That’s why the Atlanta City Design has designated Dekalb Ave as one of its “Zero Mile Bikeways.” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Over the last 50 years, Dekalb Ave has deteriorated from one of our city’s most important thoroughfares to a dangerous highway. One of the most dangerous streets in town, actually. The wide lanes, originally designed for bigger, lumpier cars that didn’t go as fast, now encourage (they demand, really) speeding. The reversible lane is confusing to even those of us who have lived here our whole lives, and has resulted in countless avoidable accidents. The sidewalks, where they do exist, are entirely too small and entirely too close to the speeding traffic, making an extremely uncomfortable environment for pedestrians. I’ve seen bicyclists try to use the sidewalks to avoid being in the road, and who can blame them – it’s not like there’s many people using them anyway. The awful truth is that Dekalb Ave is dangerous for everyone – for motorists, for bicyclists and for pedestrians. And it’s not just the road users who suffer; the awful-ness of Dekalb has had a significantly detrimental effect on the redevelopment potential of many sites, and those who live on Dekalb Ave can’t even enjoy walking out of their front doors.

Let’s talk about a better Dekalb Ave. We focused on the section between the Inman Park MARTA station (Hurt Street) and where the Decatur PATH picks up (Rocky Ford Rd). This two mile stretch would connect the PATH to the bike lane on Edgewood Ave, effectively creating a flat and efficient bicycle route from downtown all the way to Decatur, Avondale, Scottdale and even Clarkston. That’s huge.

By and large, our approach stays within the existing curbs – using only paint to create a buffered two-way cycle track on the south side of the road. Limited modifications would be necessary at three key intersections to allow for left turn lanes: Oakdale/Whitefoord, Clifton and Arizona. An even lighter, faster and cheaper approach would be to connect Hurt Street to Oakdale/Whitefoord only – thereby avoiding the needed curb modifications. While this approach would be less ideal, as it would force northside cyclists to McClendon and southside cyclists to LaFrance and the Pullman Path, it would be much better than nothing and would still serve as an innovative experiment in traffic calming and connectivity.

The Renew Atlanta team has heard loud and clear from the public that Dekalb Ave is a major concern, and they are open to and excited by the idea of a pilot project. As they continue their due diligence on Dekalb Ave for the resurfacing and restriping, we hope that they will carry the citizen input and ideas forward into real outcomes. We welcome feedback and suggestions, and we highly encourage you to share them with City Council and the Renew Atlanta team as well. And next time you see someone from ABC, thank them for being such tireless transportation advocates in a city dominated by cars.

Click here for a link to the full concept package. 

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