Rush-hour back-ups and other traffic-flow issues seen since a significant reconfiguration of traffic lane markings on North Chase Street are prompting Athens-Clarke County traffic engineers to recommend that county commissioners return the section of North Chase Street between Boulevard and Newton Bridge Road to its original configuration.
The recommendation comes as the result of a request from Mayor Nancy Denson, who asked county government staff to take a look at the street in the wake of calls from businesses and industries along and near the reconfigured section.
Returning that section to its original configuration will mean re-installing a two-way left-turn lane between 850 N. Chase St. (in the block between Boulevard and Nantahala Avenue) and Rowe Road, and returning North Chase Street from Rowe Road to Newton Bridge Road (which includes an Athens Perimeter interchange) to four lanes from the three-lane configuration (two travel lanes and a center two-way left turn lane) installed as a result of action last year by Athens-Clarke County commissioners.
Returning to the original configuration of the affected section of North Chase Street will also mean eliminating the bicycle lanes installed along the street as part of last year’s changes.
According to a report prepared late last month by the county’s traffic engineers, while “bicycle lanes should be considered whenever feasible” in reconfiguring or designing local roads, the lanes added to the reconfigured section of North Chase Street “do not … link existing facilities and/or priority destinations.”
Word that local officials are recommending that part of North Chase Street be returned to its original configuration brought reaction from two local alternative transportation advocacy organizations, BikeAthens and Complete Streets Athens.
Both groups suggested the county should move to a broader approach to street design that incorporates the needs of cyclists and pedestrians in addition to motorists, rather than continuing to use a “road diet” policy that considers only the impact of proposed changes on motor vehicle traffic and crashes.
“It’s unfortunate that, after dealing with the repaving of Chase Street for nearly three years, we didn’t get it right. We believe that ACC [Athens-Clarke County] adopting a robust Complete Streets implementation policy, incorporating best practices for all users, would help us avoid some of these issues from the start,” said the statement from Complete Streets Athens.
Similarly, BikeAthens called for the county to replace its current widely used “level of service” evaluation with “a more reliable, modern, best-practice Complete Streets metric.” The BikeAthens statement also goes on to point out that “(i)f, as the city says, there is an unacceptable delay [for vehicular traffic along North Chase Street], L.O.S. [level-of-service-based evaluation] failed to suss it out.”
The current reconfiguration of North Chase Street, with temporary pavement markings installed over the recently repaved section of the street, began in August 2015, when county Transportation & Public Works personnel came forward with a bare-bones plan for restriping North Chase Street. That proposal was issued in connection with a county policy allowing for consideration of restriping four-lane roads to three lanes — two travel lanes with a center turn lane — when a road is scheduled for repaving.
In the following month, Athens-Clarke County commissioners dropped North Chase Street from the repaving schedule and directed county government staff to develop a more nuanced restriping plan, with input from the public, to incorporate traffic-calming measures and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into the work on North Chase Street from Prince Avenue to Newton Bridge Road.
While motorists using the road — and in particular, the business owners along the route — were happy to see the new pavement on Chase Street, that initial satisfaction soured as the temporary pavement markings were installed, according to the mayor.
“I think I’ve heard from every business along there,” Denson said. Business owners are concerned both about deliveries to their businesses, and delays their employees might encounter on their way to and from work, the mayor said.
There is also some concern, Denson said, that delays related to the new configuration of North Chase Street may become even more problematic as school comes back into session. Chase Street Elementary School is located close to the area where the reconfigured section of North Chase Street has prompted motorists’ complaints.
It’s possible that the issue could be taken up at the commission’s agenda-setting meeting on July 18, with a vote then possible on Aug. 1.