Monroe Drive Road Diet will save lives and improve quality of life

By Guest Columnist THOMAS HYNEMAN, whose daughter, Alexia, died in February after she and her bicycle were struck by a motorist at the intersection of 10th Street and Monroe Drive.

I prefer to be direct so I will get right to it. A road diet on Monroe Drive could have saved my daughter’s life. A road diet, converting the four-lane road to three with a center turn lane, improves visibility and discourages speeding, so that even if my daughter had been hit, she would have had a much better chance of walking away from the crash.

Thomas Hyneman

Thomas Hyneman

I’ve talked to many parents who’ve had close calls crossing Monroe with their children. I would hate for anyone to have to endure what I have just because we are more concerned with pushing cars through – at alarmingly high speeds well over the posted speed limit.

“I feel very threatened walking on the sidewalks on Monroe.” writes a grandfather on the Change.org petition in support of the Monroe Road Diet launched by a Morningside mother whose kids attend the local elementary school. “With my granddaughter, we get off Monroe ASAP. Not very pleasant.”

The reason you feel uncomfortable biking or walking on Monroe Drive is because the road is designed to serve fast-moving traffic as car commuters try to avoid the highways and cut-through Monroe from I-85 to I-20. The designed speed limit forces people to move at unsafe speeds well above the posted speed limit.

Our street should reflect how people who live here, like the grandfather above, use it – and want to use it – on a daily basis. Monroe has become an important connector for people who bike and walk, thanks to the popularity of the Atlanta BeltLine, Piedmont Park, and students trying to get to Grady High School.

Hyneman family

The Hyneman family, with Alexia in the foreground. Credit: Family photo, enhanced for brightness

During the second Monroe Drive/Boulevard Complete Street public meeting, on February 28, Renew Atlanta showed that a road diet on Monroe Drive between 10th Street and Yorkshire Road would lead to a 140 percent increase in evening rush hour travel times for those heading south on Monroe, and a 40 percent increase in morning rush hour travel times – along with the potential to reduce car crashes by 29 percent, all while widening the sidewalk, adding a buffer, and reducing distances for people on foot to cross.

Some believe that the overall five-mile corridor will average this increase. That is not the case. Though traffic times may increase slightly throughout the corridor, the vast majority of the increase will be from Armour Drive to Piedmont.

Opponents of the road diet say that car traffic will be pushed onto neighborhood streets. But take a look at the road diet and you will see that the increased travel time will mostly be before Piedmont. Since car commuters are on Monroe in the neighborhoods headed towards 10th, there will be no reason to use the neighborhood roads. Phone apps such as Waze will direct them down Monroe.

Renew Atlanta displayed this proposed road diet for Monroe Drive. Credit: Renew Atlanta via Thomas Hyneman

Renew Atlanta displayed this proposed road diet for Monroe Drive. Credit: Renew Atlanta via Thomas Hyneman

And even if we do see increased traffic on residential streets, TSPLOST is introducing Neighborhood Greenways to the city infrastructure that would lay the groundwork for inexpensive and innovative traffic-calming solutions to affected streets.’

What these numbers fail to tell is that doing nothing and maintaining the status quo leads to thousands of crashes, including both injury and death, and ultimately degrades the quality of life of residents, like myself, who live in the area.

Like many people, I assumed the improved safety would come at the cost of the road’s feasibility for regular automotive traffic.

The opposite is true.

Traffic studies show us that even though speeds are reduced, traffic volume remains steady. Traffic may actually flows easier, while crashes and injuries are so greatly reduced that in some cases they are considered to be negligible with the diets in place.

Virginia Highland Neighborhood Master Plan

Virginia Highland Neighborhood Master Plan provides this perspective on the benefits of three- and four-lane roadways. Credit: Va-Hi Master Plan, via Thomas Hyneman

I’ve had neighbors tell me that Monroe is too busy for a road diet. In researching road diets, I’ve found that this reluctance is normal. In fact, a vast majority of road diets face harsh criticism before they are completed, yet result in mass support and success after it.

In Athens, GA, a very successful road diet was used on Baxter Street with a daily count of 20,000 cars at the time of implementation. Seattle has implemented 34 road diets throughout the city that have reduced aggressive speeding, crashes and injuries, while having a minimal impact on actual traffic volume.

In regards to left turns, it takes only one left turning car in a four-lane configuration to stall 50 percent or more of the traffic on that road. More alarming, left turns without a center lane greatly incentivize swerving and dangerous situations that are ripe for accidents.

A road diet would benefit emergency responders, too. Emergency vehicles can take advantage of the center lane to pass traffic, or openings outside the lanes, depending on the road diet format chosen. The truth is our emergency responders won’t be able to get through get through any gridlock on the existing four-lane road when it is packed with traffic.

By adjusting commute times or routes, or using an alternative commute, everyone could take more control of their commute time to work. But the current situation is untenable in terms of 24/7 safety. The city shouldn’t be in the business of tailoring our roads around our morning and evening commutes that degrade our quality of life and create dangerous outcomes for our families, friends, and neighbors.

Don’t let our decision rest on only 10 to 20 percent of the time the road is used by people passing through. Monroe is always busy, but it doesn’t have to be always dangerous for the people who live here.

If you support my vision for a safer Monroe Drive, please send your message in support to [email protected].

Note to readers: Here is an earlier SaportaReport story on the Monroe Drive corridor and Thomas Hyneman.

Alexia Hyneman ghost bicycle

A “ghost bicycle” memorial still adorns the location where Alexia Hyneman was killed at the Monroe Drive entrance to the Atlanta BeltLine (Photo provided by Thomas Hyneman)

Following the death of his daughter, Alexia, Thomas Hyneman has taken on the cause of making Monroe Drive safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Credit: Thomas Hyneman

Following the death of his daughter, Alexia, Thomas Hyneman has taken on the cause of making Monroe Drive safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Credit: Thomas Hyneman

hyneman, canvassing

Thomas Hyneman canvassed the neighborhood, seeking support for plans to put Monroe Drive on a road diet. Credit: Thomas Hyneman

15 replies
  1. Leslie Wilson says:

    What is most important is safety. Reducing crashes, and preventing death and injury. On a road that is notoriously bad for speeding… and where the potential for accidents is high… and where people have died… I fail to comprehend those who don’t want changes – and specific changes proven to improve safety. Pedestrians are afraid to even walk along Monroe Drive. A road diet can’t happen fast enough.Report

    Reply
  2. Chris Parrish says:

    Thomas Hyneman is absolutely right; road diets have been proven to work everywhere. It seems counter-intuitive that three lanes will handle more traffic than four, but they do. As usual, there are people worried about traffic jams and cut-through traffic, but traffic will increase regardless, so we need to get ahead of it and make improvements that make sense for everyone, not just commuters.

    The road diet plan for Peachtree failed due to the old Buckhead Betty NIMBYs. Don’t let it happen on Monroe.Report

    Reply
  3. Bennett Foster says:

    Thomas also appeared on a WSB-TV interview yesterday at the corner of Monroe and 10th to educate residents on the benefits of the road diet and correct the misinformation out there:

    http://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/atlanta/father-on-mission-to-improve-intersection-where-his-daughter-died/506651913

    Thomas is absolutely right. We need to prioritize the safety of the community before we cater to car commuters. The road diet design will fit nicely with neighborhood greenways linking residential neighborhoods to this corner. As Thomas points out, the road diets in Seattle and cities across the country, move traffic through busy, dense corridors safety and efficiently, while making it safe to bike and walk.Report

    Reply
  4. William Jones says:

    There are things that should be tried before we take the drastic step of a road constriction. Crosswalks can be improved and, frankly some of them need to be eliminated. You can walk an extra block to get to a safer crosswalk. And I am not in favor of creating gridlock for the sake of a very small minority of bikers. And this thought that sidewalks are too close to the streets? I have yet to hear of a car running off the street and hitting a pedestrian. Maybe it has happened but so rarely that one doesn’t come to mind. And think of the road rage that will inevitably follow after inducing gridlock. And there most certainly will be be people bailing off Monroe to the side streets. I for one, do it now. Yes there are road constriction success stories but there are many failures too. You can easily find examples with a quick search. I’m not against improvements for safety as long as they are sane and make sense for the street in question. As we sit here today, Monroe is already at the upper limits for constriction. And that doesn’t even factor in growth. So instead of just considering the flavor of the month solution, lets try some less invasive, less draconian changes before we trade one problem for an even bigger one.Report

    Reply
    • Bennett Foster says:

      This is hardly a flavor of the month solution.

      The Monroe Drive Complete Street and Road Diet project are the result of a series of public meetings in 2013 and 2014 that led to the Virginia Highland Master Plan, which was approved by the Virginia Highland Civic Association (https://vahi.org/planning/master-plan/)

      The civic association voted unanimously to support the Complete Street and Road Diet proposed by Renew Atlanta, citing “The Connect Atlanta Plan and the BeltLine Subarea 6 Plan both supported a road diet for Monroe. The consultants who examined traffic data for the Virginia-Highland’s Master Plan recommended a Complete Streets approach to Monroe that also included (among other features) a road diet. All these plans were formally adopted by the Atlanta City Council.” (https://vahi.org/vhca-unanimously-votes-to-support-the-monroe-road-diet/)

      It’s unfortunate that it took a young girl’s life to prompt a larger discussion on safety on Monroe when the aggressive speeding and safety issues should have been addressed years ago.Report

      Reply
      • Ben Dooley says:

        Please, there are many neighborhoods besides VA/HI that will be effected by this proposal and they and their civic associations have not expressed the same support as has the VA/HI Association. It is a terrible thing when any innocent and loved human life is taken and we all are diminished when it happens. Safety, rather than convenience, has to be the first priority for improving Monroe Dr, but making an already difficult commute such a chore (140% longer according to this proposals designers) that it redirects cars to other narrow streets through residential neighborhoods begs the question of how safe a solution it is. What have we gained if Monroe is made safer but Park Dr, Amsterdam, Rock Springs and Montgomery Ferry become more dangerous? With the completion of the section of the Beltline from 10th St through to Montgomery Ferry will go a long way toward giving safe and convenient relief to bike riders and walkers. Even so, yes let’s make Monroe safer for all by better traffic signals, no left turn on most streets, fewer pedestrian crossing points, signaled pedestrian crosswalks midblock rather than only at corners, dedicated left turn lanes where possible, round-abouts where they make sense, and above all stricter police enforcement of speed limits.Report

        Reply
    • Sally Flocks says:

      William, You’re right that people “can” walk an extra block to get to a safer crosswalk. But research shows that people won’t. That’s not the only problem. On roads with over 3 lanes and more than 12,000 cars a day, a crosswalk on its own does not increase safety. Why walk to a crosswalk if drivers don’t behave any differently there?

      Atlanta needs to design our streets for the way people really behave, not the way you wish they would.

      The proposed road diet is intended to make Monroe Drive safer for all users. In the proposed project, space made available by reconfiguring the road so it has just one lane in each direction will be used to widen the sidewalks, not for bike lanes.

      The current road design encourages speeding during non-peak hours and dangerous weaving between lanes, which has resulted in numerous serious or fatal injuries.

      As John Adams warned in 1788, tyranny of the majority can threaten individual freedom. Monroe Drive belongs to all of us, not just those driving cars.Report

      Reply
  5. Sally Flocks says:

    If our streets are designed for cars and traffic, we get cars and traffic. If our streets are designed for people, we get places where people want to walk and can do so safely. Our quality of life depends on it.

    Saving lives is far more important than saving time. Even one death is too many.Report

    Reply
  6. Bennett Foster says:

    This is far from a flavor of the month solution.

    The Complete Streets and Road Diet plan for Monroe was created after a series of public meetings in 2013 and 2014 that was adopted by Virginia Highland Civic Association here: https://vahi.org/planning/master-plan/

    The VHCA board unanimously approved the Renew Atlanta proposed road diet (https://vahi.org/vhca-unanimously-votes-to-support-the-monroe-road-diet/) and “The Connect Atlanta Plan and the BeltLine Subarea 6 Plan both supported a road diet for Monroe. The consultants who examined traffic data for the Virginia-Highland’s Master Plan recommended a Complete Streets approach to Monroe that also included (among other features) a road diet. All these plans were formally adopted by the Atlanta City Council.”

    It’s sad that a young girl’s death had to spark even a modest discussion on changing this road to fit the needs of the community and the growing demand for safer roadways in this area.Report

    Reply
  7. Kevin Burnup says:

    Mr Hyneman, I think of your daughter every time I drive through that intersection. I used to bike through there a lot, but that whole confluence has just become too congested for me as a bicyclist. And Monroe Drive itself: if I head north from 10th St. during daylight hours, I am one nervous nellie. It’s obvious that the street is too narrow for four lanes of traffic in this age of widened vehicles. As Americans have grown wider, so have their vehicles. Mini-vans, SUV’s, and those monster pick-up trucks from the exurbs simply make those driving lanes too tight. The road diet you’ve suggested is appropriate and overdue for Monroe Drive. Three lanes, with the left-turn lane in the middle, would make movement safer for all who bike and motor along Monroe.Report

    Reply

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