Regarding the reconfiguring (and reconsideration) of Chase Street

Madame Mayor and Commissioners,

We understand there are issues with the portion of Chase Street from the Loop to Newton Bridge following its repaving and restriping. Complete Streets Athens would like to make the case that, if Athens had an improved Complete Streets policy with an implementation plan in place to guide the process from the start, these issues could be lessened or avoided altogether.

To be clear, our issues with the recent spate of concerns raised over Chase Street have little to do with whether a bike lane should or shouldn’t be created. Rather, we are urging our elected officials to take a step back and see that it is our inadequate process that has put us in this place.

Our policy of converting four-lane roads to three lanes only covered the final block of Chase Street, from the Loop to Newton Bridge Road. This policy was the only reason we were able to discuss Chase Street at all, and it is worth noting that for any dissatisfaction expressed with the road now, there are just as many families further down the street who are pleased with the results. That said, it should not be left to our elected officials to fight for residents’ voices in this process. We need to adopt a best practice policy for Complete Streets implementation, one that gathers quality input, before the lanes are restriped, not just an outdated three-laning policy that makes improving our roads a struggle.

We also need a comprehensive Complete Streets policy to allow for more than a “level of service” (LOS) analysis for vehicles. LOS is the predominant measure staff relies on, as evidenced by the most recent Traffic Impact Analysis, and it measures only one thing: delay for drivers. As result, it can produce only one outcome — fast, dangerous streets. By measuring only one variable, LOS cannot be used to place our unique streets into their proper context. It brings highway design into places such design does not belong. Many factors about street design and configurations are overlooked or not considered.

Finally, we need a comprehensive complete streets policy that incorporates opportunities for meaningful public input and adequate time for citizens to understand the changes made and adjust their behavior accordingly. The mere fact that this street is coming back before the M&C for discussion—again, AFTER it has been repaved—shows that not all options were considered prior to starting the project. Many Chase Street School parents, as well as Boulevard residents and property owners just outside the Boulevard neighborhood, participated in the initial planning for this street, and they are pleased with the results so far.

It’s worth noting that in her welcoming address to members of the Bike/Ped Master Plan Citizen’s Advisory committee, Mayor Denson pointed out—correctly, in our opinion—that the committee’s task is important because we “cannot pave our way out of increased congestion.” Therefore we must provide alternative transportation infrastructure throughout ACC. It is not possible for us all to drive everywhere we want to go; therefore making it safe, comfortable and inviting for ACC residents to walk, bus or bike is imperative.

To bring the Chase Street project back behind the rail for discussion at this late stage reinforces our flawed process. A thorough Complete Streets implementation policy would consider the road’s use as it changes throughout the corridor, and adjust as necessary. It would also use a variety of measures to best gauge use and traffic flow. With a comprehensive Complete Streets policy, perhaps we would have gone into this repaving project with a more nuanced approach than we did. It is only fair that we give our staff a proper toolbox from which to work, rather than force them to adopt a one-size-fits-all plan for a road.

Complete Streets Athens