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

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