Jim Durrett shares his take on Peachtree Road redesign

Readers:  Buckhead CID executive director Jim Durrett just sent me an email which he titled:

“Peachtree Road – The Facts, and Nothing But the Facts”

I thought the points he made were so important that I needed to post it right away.

Thank you for reading and for being engaged in our community.

Maria Saporta

By Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District:

“Peachtree Road – The Facts, and Nothing But the Facts”

What began as an opportunity to improve the Peachtree corridor has devolved into a highly politicized referendum on cars versus bicycles.

Emails have been forwarded to me, written by people encouraging neighbors to oppose the Georgia Department of Transportation’s recommended alternative, that have been filled with misinformation, mistrust, fear and anger.

Many of those with whom I have spoken about the plan to restripe Peachtree have asked me to provide factual information about the proposal to compare with what they have been hearing from their neighbors. This post will do just that – give the reader good information upon which to base an opinion.

 

Jim Durrett

Jim Durrett

Peachtree, between Deering Road just north of Midtown Atlanta and Pharr Road in Buckhead, is an extremely inefficient road in terms of utilization of the available capacity and processing of traffic.

How does this inefficiency manifest itself?

Georgia DOT has monitored existing conditions and determined that there is only 15 percent use of the far left lane. Why is this? Because there are very few center left turn bays to allow people who wish to turn left off of Peachtree to get out of the far left lane so that others can continue straight ahead.

And there are very few traffic signals that give left-turning vehicles a green arrow. So most people avoid the far left lane because they don’t want to get stuck behind someone who wants to turn left, but has to wait for three lanes of oncoming traffic to clear.

Why is this a problem? Weaving is the biggest result, where cars are darting in and out of lanes to try to take advantage of a mostly empty far left lane or to get out of that lane to avoid a stopped car because someone is trying to turn left.

Because of this weaving, acceleration and deceleration, there have been many crashes – 801 in the past five years, according to Georgia DOT’s complete records. This is not a safe corridor. Nor is it a reliable corridor, in terms of being able to count on how long it should take you to get from one point to another.

Safety is Georgia DOT’s number one priority.

If you can improve safety by reducing crashes, not only does the public benefit from reduced damage to person and property, the public also benefits from decreased congestion due to crash incidents. Restriping Peachtree to provide a center left turn lane and left turn arrows on traffic signals where turning volumes warrant them is the best way to improve safety, as well as corridor reliability on Peachtree.

Other options?

OK, so why not widen Peachtree to add a center turn lane and be done with it? Because to do so would require severe property impacts, above ground and below ground utility relocations, and it would have environmental impacts that, combined, make this option a non-starter. So whatever will be done will have to take place between the existing curbs as they are today.

The predominant lane configuration that is on this stretch of Peachtree today is three 10-foot lanes in each direction – 60 feet from curb to curb. If 60 feet is what you have to work with, and you begin with the goal of having a center turn lane, you don’t have room to put back three lanes in each direction. The question now becomes what to put back on either side of the center turn lane.

Analysis:

As mentioned earlier, Georgia DOT monitored existing conditions, which included doing what is called traffic counts – how many cars travel in what direction during specific times of day and days of the week. They then looked at developments proposed and under construction along the corridor and just off of the corridor in Buckhead and estimated additional future traffic from those developments.

They then added additional future traffic from regional growth. They input all of these traffic data into a sophisticated computer traffic model in order to simulate traffic operations performance for different lane configurations.

Georgia DOT knows that up to 43,000 vehicles per day travel along the corridor. They know that there is also existing pedestrian, bicycle and MARTA transit activity in the corridor. They know that several churches have permission to park cars on Peachtree on Sundays.

They considered three southbound lanes and two northbound lanes to go with the center left turn lane. They considered two southbound lanes and three northbound lanes to go with the center left turn lane. They considered two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes with four-foot bike lanes next to the curb to go with the center left turn lane. They considered all of the above in different combinations for different segments between Deering and Pharr.

Peachtree Road Buckhead

Looking north on Peachtree towards Buckhead (Special: Buckhead Community Improvement District)

 

Georgia DOT modelled how traffic operations would perform under these various scenarios, in terms of travel time, delay at intersections and vehicle throughput (number of vehicles road could handle). They compared the results and weighed the relative benefits against their stated goals for the project: safety, traffic operations, and pedestrian and bicyclist safety and access (especially to the BeltLine, which will cross Peachtree north of Piedmont Hospital).

Georgia DOT’s preferred alternative is to provide the center left turn lane with dedicated left turn bays and green arrows for traffic signals where appropriate, to provide three southbound travel lanes and two northbound travel lanes between Peachtree Battle and Pharr Road, and to provide two southbound and two northbound travel lanes, along with four-foot bike lanes, between Deering Road and Peachtree Battle.

Conclusions:

What are the benefits of adopting this alternative?

Vehicle traffic operations performance is maintained in the corridor for the foreseeable future. In fact, Georgia DOT anticipates that the restriped road will be able to handle up to 10,000 more vehicles per day and that delays at intersections and travel times will improve for the corridor as a whole, especially in the afternoons.

Traffic flow will be better regulated than it is today. Crashes will be reduced (Georgia DOT expects a 20 percent reduction). Bicyclists will have dedicated and safer spaces with access to the future BeltLine. Where the bike lanes are present they provide an effective four-foot buffer between pedestrians and vehicles, and a reduced crossing distance for pedestrians.

I know it is counterintuitive that traffic operations will be improved by removing a lane or two, but when you consider 15 percent utilization of both inner lanes and the lack of a center turn lane as well as a reduction in crash incidents, it makes sense.

Did Georgia DOT consider that MARTA has the 110 bus that operates in this corridor? Yes.

Would motorists have to be careful not to hit a bicyclist in a bike lane when they need to turn right? Yes.

Will bike lanes make it safer for the bicyclist that uses Peachtree today? Yes.

Will traffic get so bad on Peachtree after the changes are made that neighborhoods will see increased cut-through traffic from cars escaping Peachtree? No.

The modeling indicates traffic improves on Peachtree, and it can handle more cars than it does today.

Anything else that I can think of writing is strictly my opinion. My goal was to better inform yours. I hope this helps.

Note to readers: If you want to share your thoughts about this topic, you may send your comments via email to the Georgia Department of Transportation through Monday, Nov. 9 at the following address: [email protected].

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

31 replies
  1. Nima Ghomghani says:

    So glad we have someone like Jim taking charge and improving Buckhead in such a great way!  We are truly blessed to have him and his team at the Buckhead CID.  They are doing an incredible job!Report

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  2. mnst says:

    A dose of logic in an otherwise emotional argument is almost always a good thing; thank you for posting this.

    Three lanes of travel in the same direction on a single street is just nuts for a city. That’s fine for a freeway, but it is not a safe way to design a city’s streets. But this is still an improvement.Report

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  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    “Georgia DOT’s preferred alternative is to provide the center left turn lane with dedicated left turn bays and green arrows for traffic signals where appropriate, to provide three southbound travel lanes and two northbound travel lanes between Peachtree Battle and Pharr Road, and to provide two southbound and two northbound travel lanes, along with four-foot bike lanes, between Deering Road and Peachtree Battle.”
    So no bike lanes between Peachtree Battle and Pharr, but bike lanes between Deering and Peachtree Battle? Doesn’t make sense.
    But then, if vehicular traffic is the problem, why not eliminate the bike lanes and add another lane?Report

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  4. Allen Bell says:

    How about adding a couple of MARTA stations along that corridor, too? There are no MARTA stations between the Arts Center Station and Lindbergh. That’s a long way between stations – 3.7 miles – for an intown transit system. Logical locations might include one station in the area of the Brookwood Amtrak station, and one in the area where the Beltline will intersect with Peachtree, just north of Piedmont Hospital. Adding MARTA stations along the Peachtree corridor would make for a more complete transportation plan to go along with repaving, restriping to add bicycle lanes and left turn lanes, adding turn signals, and completing the Beltline.Report

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  5. Jim Durrett says:

    Maria characterized my article as a position paper, which implies that my organization, the Buckhead CID, has taken a position on the Georgia DOT’s recommended alternative, and that what you read is our endorsement of the recommendation.  It is not a position paper, and we have not taken a position on the recommended alternative.  It was intended to be a clear explanation of the proposal.Report

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  6. TomTomaka says:

    Burroughston Broch “if vehicular traffic is the problem, why not eliminate the bike lanes and add another vehicular lane?” 
    Did you read the article you are commenting on?Report

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  7. Jo Ann Walter says:

    Obviously you do not live in the affected area from Peachtree Battle to Deering Road. Putting bike lanes on a road that is so heavily traveled is very dangerous for the bikers and the drivers. We have wheelchairs and buses and now will have bikes to deal with. Traffic will go from three lanes traveling south to two lanes starting at Peachtree Battle and it will be constant gridlock. Then you will have the Shepard Center and PIedmont Hospital with emergency vehicles which can hardly get through traffic now and a lot of wheelchair traffic. I think this whole plan needs to be reevaluated. GDOT evaluated several alternatives. The optimum configuration was not the one that GDOT recommended.
    Look at the mess that GDOT has made of Pharr Road, yet many apartment buildings and condos are being built which will put more traffic on already overburdened roads.
    The ‘bicycle lanes to no-where’ should go somewhere else .Report

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  8. mnst says:

    Jo Ann Walter “Bicycle lanes are dangerous to cyclists” is a fairly absurd thing to say, you must admit? This plan would also make the experience better for pedestrians, including those in wheelchairs. There is no factual basis for your claim of “constant gridlock” since the third lane is at only 16% capacity, according to the article above. Please add some facts to your argument and try again.Report

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  9. lucybooker5 says:

    When you put a four foot bike lane then want to get a bus to curbside it must block the bike lane plus half a travel lane. The kneeling buses and wheelchair lift buses can’t put those passengers out in the street where they face a six inch curb. That is not within code and it is sure as heck dangerous. Just a factReport

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  10. mnst says:

    lucybooker5 Great idea, Lucy, I totally agree — let’s dedicate one of the two travel lanes solely to buses and transit vehicles so we can make it safer for passengers to board.Report

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  11. Allison Richardson says:

    I’m glad you mentioned traffic signals – because I could not find any information on this critical piece in any of the diagrams, power points OR from any of the GDOT representatives I spoke with at the meeting. I have major concerns as an E Rivers parent and as the president of Collier Hills North Civic Association. One of our three entry/exit points to CHN is via Colonial Homes Dr (behind Houstons). At this moment, 875 apartment units are under construction on Colonial Homes. A northbound, left turn signal will be crucial.
    Other major concern – Peachtree/Peachtree Battle during morning rush hour/carpool. Northbound, left turning traffic trying to get to school often ques all the way back to Peachtree Hills Ave (and beyond). All the while, since there is no southbound turn signal into Peachtree Battle shopping center, Starbucks customers are lined up right next to us, trying to turn into the side entrance of the shop ctr. A center turn lane here would be a suicide lane. A long needed southbound turn signal and/or a “no left turn” into the non main entrance would help – but nothing was mentioned in the plans.Report

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  12. rjb says:

    A similar change was made on another congested road, Ponce de Leon Ave, a couple of years ago.  Very similar issues (rush hour congestion, lots of turning, far left underutilized) and changes that were made (2 lanes plus turn, add bike lanes).  Does GDOT have data on how traffic on Ponce has been impacted since the change occurred?Report

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  13. Barbara Guillaume says:

    Jo Ann Walter As someone who iives and works in Buckhead (I live on Peachtree RD) I can assure you that the current traffic gridlock at peak commute hours presently makes it very difficult for emergency vehicles to circulate.  I believe that the turn lanes would be, as they are on Piedmont Road, an excellent change for the best both for safety and for traffic flow.  However, bike lanes on Peachtree are sheer madness.  As a matter of  fact, I would suggest that for the safety of the  bikers that they be restricted from using Peachtree Rd. at peak commute hours.
    I am often a pedestrian and I can assure you that in no way do bike lanes make pedestrian traffic more safe for us.  If anything, I believe that they cause far more of a hazard for pedestrians at crosswalks.Report

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  14. chrisdusack says:

    I ride that section often. Putting a bike lane from Deering to PTB, gets cyclists across the creek and over to areas west of Peachtree that already have bike lanes.Report

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  15. Cynthia Gentry says:

    Delighted to see this, thanks for posting. As someone who has driven Peachtree Road for close to 50 years and who used to ride her bike on Peachtree from Peachtree Battle to Lenox Square …at age 11 (scary now, not then)… I have studied the traffic flow carefully. I often wondered about that empty left lane that was full only when somebody who didn’t know better got stuck behind the person turning left. This plan makes a lot of sense. Times are changing and if we are lucky more and more people will be riding bikes. It’s good for your health and for that of everyone else who likes to breathe. I am delighted to see common sense and research-based innovative design hitting the streets of my hometown.Report

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  16. BuckheadResidentMotorist says:

    In the interest of equanimity, if you wish a counterpoint to Mr. Durrett’s personal observations, comments and endorsement of the bicycle lanes, I direct your attention to the PHWCA (Peachtree Heights West Civic Association) Transportation Committee Position Paper on this critical subject. Its primary bias is that it represents the interests and concerns of near-by residents whose neighborhoods and properties are already increasingly impacted by the rapid development of this segment of the Peachtree Road corridor. This document can be obtained from PHWCA President John Foley <[email protected]>Report

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  17. Jim Morgens says:

    Perhaps the center turn lane will work. There will be many conflict points to work out, however, such as the let turners into Starbucks conflicting with the left turners onto Peachtree Battle, as pointed out by one of the other commenters. A bigger problem will be three southbound lanes merging into two at Peachtree Battle.  We’ve all experienced other busy road where a lane drops; the backup will be impressive. And no one I talked to at the Shepard Center meeting could tell me how this proposal will help the Piedmont Hosp/Collier Rd choke point. Continuing the tree southbound lanes would help a lot. With the possible exception of the center turn lane, this proposal is more about bicycles than it is about traffic flow. Politically correct, perhaps, but pragmatically incorrect.Report

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  18. Mac Durrett says:

    mbfree  Ah, yes, one of “them” – a rider of bicycles, and “well known” at that – for shame!  But there is more to this….  As one of Jim’s younger brothers, I have frequently observed Jim to “be” a … pedestrian.  Also, I will share with you that he is a card carrying motorist (yes, he’s licensed and frequently is “known” to drive his cars – both electric and fossil fueled).  But the plot thickens, as he is also known to be a board member of Marta with significant interest and knowledge about such bus and rail mass transit systems.  Now that you are even more in the know, what are we to make of all of this?  Perhaps you may conclude that Jim’s much more “conflicted” than you first thought: “Bicycles, walking, autos, buses, and rail – oh, my!”  Or, you may conclude that he’s especially well-rounded and uniquely capable of appreciating the diverse modes of transportation we use to try to get around – yes, even in Buckhead.  But I believe one thing is for sure, Jim’s certainly “going places!”  Sincerely, Mac DurrettReport

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  19. mbfree says:

    Cynthia Gentry mbfree Cynthia, I’m not big on conspiracies.  However, I’m not surprised that Jim would be a strong advocate of bike lanes.  I live and work on Peachtree so I deal with the congestion every day. I would think riding a bike on Peachtree is pretty dangerous as cars are weaving in-and-out, constantly.  I just think it’s a questionable idea to limit auto traffic and encourage bike traffic on such a crowded road. I don’t see anything evil or nefarious with bike riders.  
    On a similar subject, coordinating traffic lights would be a big help!Report

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  20. Real World says:

    Jim missed one fact: he wears a large gold pin on his lapel in the form of a bike and rider. Hardly a neutral source. Adding bike traffic to any busy street is a recipe for disaster. When that becomes obvious, the bike riders demand something be done about the cars. The bike riders claim they have rights of access to use any road at any time. The Georgia Code section usually cited as proof says nothing like that.  Best solution for Peachtree: no bikes, no left turns, keep all the lanes. Yes, some inconvenience to some people who must find a different route or circle the block. This by far moves the most traffic with the greatest safety, if that really matters. I live in Cobb where CCDOT is spending millions ripping out two-way turn lanes because they are unsafe. In doing so they are able to  work in bike lanes.  Hmmmm. What’s he constant.Report

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  21. lucybooker5 says:

    Stated more accurately GDOT gets extra money from FHWA if they put in bike lanes and that offsets costs and the amount of State money they have to put up. They give up these funds if this part doesn’t happen. Ann-Marie Evans?Report

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  22. Cynthia Gentry says:

    I understand the wish to be able to drive with gusto up and down Peachtree, but we have to face the facts that cities are becoming denser and denser with time. I have forgotten the exact numbers, but worldwide about 80% of the Earth’s population will be living in cities by 2050 – and that day is fast approaching. Anyone who has grown up in Atlanta will know that this is already happening big time (remember the grand old homes at Peachtree and West/East Wesley?). This trend will not stop (at least not while there are developers taking a breath). So, either we come up with a viable alternative to cars or we start tearing out sidewalks, trees, driveways, yards, etc. to add even MORE lanes for cars. And anybody who has read anything about the way things work knows that when you add more lanes they quickly fill up leaving you in the same condition you were in before, only worse. 

    This is not about political correctness. This is about what makes a community work and it just makes sense. We need to allow for safe biking. If it is political correctness to bicycle then bring it on! Our streets must become more accessible, usable and safe for people period. Times are changing and if we are lucky Atlanta will change WITH the times, not dig her heals into the ground and refuse to budge to accomodate the realities of the day. We have a new Planning Commissioner who seems to understand that we have to aggressively and creatively work to meet this new day. Fingers crossed on that one.

    While what Jim Durrett does or does not do, or how many wheels he does or does not do it on, may be up for conjecture, I am all for fewer cars, more trees, a greater sense of community.  No,make that a greater actual community, and a great city that leads the way with facing the realities of the day and not trying to shoot down new ideas by calling them PC. That reminds me of when our kids were younger and we old folks discovered Facebook. If you tried to “friend” your child they would throw out the word “stalker” to force you to cower in fear and back off. People do the same thing with the term “politically correct”. Just like it makes sense to monitor what your fledgling teens are doing online, it makes sense to do what is correct for a growing population even if it is (shudder!) PC. It just may be that we have to drive a little more slowly and carefully. I can live with that.Report

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  23. lucybooker5 says:

    Cynthia Gentry I have seen few drive with gusto in ages.Speeds are pretty slow for those of us who work in the corridor. The employers along Peachtree don’t but that their employees will bike in to work. Removing a lane will not help in my opinion. How does a bus get to curbside to unload without blocking the cyclist lane and the travel lane? They are eight feet wide and the new ones delivering this Spring are articulated and longer so more people can commute via transitReport

    Reply

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