Plans to redesign Monroe Drive are ‘completely incomplete’

By Maria Saporta

It’s no secret that Monroe Drive is an accident-prone corridor in the City of Atlanta.

Just ask Ivan Schustak. He was walking along Monroe Drive in the crosswalk at Yorkshire Road on March 29thwhen he was hit by a car turning left from Monroe Drive.

Schustak, who is visually impaired, attended a Renew Atlanta community presentation of the latest proposed plans to improve the corridor of Monroe Drive-Boulevard Avenue at a town hall meeting at Grady High School on June 28th.

Ivan Schustak Tom Weyandt

Ivan Schustak shows Renew Atlanta’s Tom Weyandt a video of him being hit by a car while walking along Monroe Drive (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“I’m frustrated and angry that there’s no apparent concern for those of us who cannot or choose not to exercise the privilege of driving,” Schustak said. “I’d like to see wider sidewalks and more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. I’d like to see a center turn lane so that cars don’t have to jump lanes of traffic.”

What Schustak was describing is a “road diet” – an idea  for Monroe Drive that’s been discussed for 15 years. A road diet would remove one of the four lanes of Monroe Drive and the center would become a turn lane. The space that used to make the fourth lane could become a bikeway or could include wider sidewalks or both.

At a public meeting in 2017, the City of Atlanta proposed a “road diet” for Monroe Drive and Boulevard Avenue – and turning the corridor into a “complete street” that would serve all modes of transportation – walking, cycling, transit as well as cars.

But a year later, the city’s proposed design only has a small section of the Monroe/Boulevard corridor on a road diet. The latest proposal only calls for minimal improvements – mainly at intersections – shying away from shifting asphalt from cars to other transportation modes.

The reaction of most people attending the Renew Atlanta meeting on June 28thranged from outrage to disappointment.

Sally Flocks Monroe Drive

Sally Flocks of PEDs seeks information about the latest design proposal for the Monroe/Boulevard corridor (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“This is completely incomplete,” said Chris Schwartz, who lives in the Virginia Hill condominium building that overlooks Monroe Drive. “There’s really not much improvement around 10thand Monroe. You know that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this, and they have little to show for it.”

Charlie Paine, a citizen activist who lives in Inman Park and travels along the corridor on a regular basis.

“These plans as a whole do not make me feel any safer riding along Monroe Drive as a cyclist,” Paine said. “It is also no more beautiful. We should be using this money to make it beautiful and functional as well.”

Fred Smith, also a resident in Virginia Hill, said the city is barely improving the corridor.

“Given that it was called a complete street, I thought it would be safer for cyclists,” Smith said. “They are not widening sidewalks. They are not increasing the height of the curbs. I do think it’s quite underwhelming from a walking and transit view point.”

From what he can tell, the project is little more than a repaving of the corridor.

Sally Flocks

Sally Flocks of PEDs and Brian Bolick of Renew Atlanta listen to concerns from residents (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“For 20 years, we’ve been talking about this road diet,” said Angel Poventud, a citizen activist and BeltLine advocate. “It’s just disheartening. We passed the Renew Atlanta money, but we are not seeing greenways and bikeways. They are not delivering.”

Sally Flocks, president and CEO of PEDs, said a road diet would lead to a safer corridor by reducing accidents. “Half of traffic delays comes from wrecks,” she said.

Flocks is launching a campaign among her members to speak out against the latest plan.

“If Renew Atlanta fails to implement a road diet, build wide sidewalks and install safe crossing treatments, it will be a brazen missed opportunity,” Flocks wrote in an email to her members.

Written comments on the latest version of the plan will be accepted until August 10, and they can be sent to [email protected]

“This not the final, final proposal,” said Brian Bolick, one of the Renew Atlanta representatives at the Grady High presentation. “We really want to get this input. We want to get it as right as we can get it.”

Monroe Drive

A heat map of all the crashes along the Monroe Drive/Boulevard (Special: Renew Atlanta)

He went on to say they’re trying to balance all the different modes along the corridor.

Residents, however, said the current plan favors cars over the other modes.

“I am disappointed with the lack of bike infrastructure,” said Kelly Fletcher, who lives close by. “It’s very focused on motorists. and it doesn’t allow our residents and visitors to experience Atlanta in the best way – on foot and by bike.”

One of the maps displayed dots for every accident that’s occurred on the corridor.

“I’m one of the dots,” said Craig Wilson, who totaled his car along Monroe Drive in April 2016 and had to spend three months in rehab.

His wife, Kim Wilson, said that when she voted for the transportation sales tax, she thought the city would be improving the corridor.

“I really don’t think you have done a good job addressing the needs of pedestrians,” she told Bolick. “There’s nothing to propose a safer street.  What you have proposed doesn’t protect pedestrians. This is an F-. You have failed with this design. This is a car alternative.”

Another couple – Virginia-Highland residents Elaine Taylor-Klaus and David Taylor-Klaus – had similar thoughts.

A Renew Atlanta representative points out different aspects of the Monroe/Boulevard corridor (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“This is irresponsible,” David Taylor Klaus said. “This does not improve safety. As a cyclist, I hate all of it.”

Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, brought up Alexia Hyneman, who lost her life in February 2016 at 10thand Monroe, one of the most complicated and dangerous intersections along the corridor.

“I feel like people have forgotten that a Grady High School student died on her bicycle while crossing Monroe Drive,” Serna said. “This does not do her memory justice.”

Tom Leslie, who lives in  Midtown, called the latest plan “an incremental step.” He called both road diets and complete streets as “really good concepts,” but Leslie added that “none of this matters unless we start pumping money into transit.”

Good luck on that one. The latest plan, which only has minimal improvements along the corridor, would cost about $12 million to implement.

Monroe Drive modes

Residents were asked at an earlier meeting about which mode of transportation is most important to them – showing support for all modes (Special: Renew Atlanta)

“We have a fundamental problem with this whole corridor,” said Tom Weyandt, Renew Atlanta’s interim general manager. “There’s a real disconnect between what it will cost and the amount of money that’s available. The current estimate is $12 million, but what’s available is $3.8 million. We’ve got to figure out what the final plan will be. We want to come up with a plan that accommodates the city we want to live in and not just design the street for cars.”

Here are a couple of ideas.

The City of Atlanta should take a fresh look at redesigning the 10thand Monroe Drive intersection – even invite people at a design charrette to figure out how to make it work for all modes of transportation. It would be great to close off part of Monroe Drive (where the BeltLine crosses the street) to cars by having them travel up Virginia Avenue and down Kanuga Street.

Another idea that would reduce traffic along Monroe Drive would be to extend 8thStreet eastward, have it wrap around the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and connect to the Home Depot and the Ponce de Leon retail district.

It’s time to go back to the drawing boards and design a completely complete street.

Monroe Drive Tom Weyandt

Tom Weyandt, interim general manager of Renew Atlanta, talks to residents about the plan at June 28th meeting (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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.

26 replies
  1. J Jordan says:

    If Renew Atlanta was a business, they would be out of business by now! How can you possibly take what was a good idea(road diet) and distill it down into nothing! What have they been doing? Obviously, just wasting the taxpayers money and continuing to compromise their safety! Renew Atlanta seems to work best when they are doing corrupt backroom deals with the city and developers that would go even further to compromise safety and the integrity of neighborhoods! The city should abolish the current make-up of Renew Atlanta and bring in neighborhood people who will work for the neighborhood and not just for the $$.Report

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  2. kaystephenson says:

    Even folks who were opposed to the road diet were willing to have the city give it a trial for six months. It’s only paint. Why aren’t we trying that.

    Also, we seriously need a second through street to connect traffic coming of 400 and 85 to downtown. Piedmont was made one-way in the 60s when the population of downtown neighborhoods was nil. The demographics have changed dramatically as the population of Atlanta is growing again and density is increasing in these intown neighborhoods. We need to recognize and adjust for that reality now before we hit complete gridlock.Report

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  3. NW says:

    Monroe cannot afford to have a reduction in lanes. There are no other streets for vehicles to traverse this area other than going through neighborhood surface streets, which is EXACTLY what will happen if the road diet goes through.

    A more pedestrian friendly Monroe is a great goal for all of us living on this corridor, however if you speak about people being hit on Monroe or car accidents, imagine what will happen when all of this traffic diverts to Hillpine, Cumberland, Elkmont, Crestridge, Park etc??? Those are neighborhood streets with cars parked along them and they CERTAINLY cannot handle the cut-through/ WAZE traffic. Monroe is already at a stand-still on many days during rush hour and pretty much always between Park and 10th. How would reducing lanes help? It would create more smog and more cut through traffic. It is a bad idea all around. Improving intersections is exactly what needs to be done and perhaps adding some additional pedestrian lighted cross walks.

    The beltline runs through Piedmont Park parallel to Monroe and when it is paved, it can be a perfect alternative for cyclists and pedestrians instead of Monroe. There are too many people needing to get from the 400/85 connector through VaHi, O4W, East Midtown, etc to warrant a reduction in lanes on Monroe Drive.Report

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  4. Sally Flocks says:

    Crashes aren’t accidents. They’re predictable and preventable. And if Renew Atlanta would move forward on a road diet, wide sidewalks, and safer crossing treatments at more locations, people who use Monroe Drive would experience far fewer wrecks, injuries and fatalities.Report

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  5. Ben Dooley says:

    Everyone who walks wants safer and better pedestrian alternatives, but in an earlier extended Internet discussion of the changes to Monroe Dr the general sentiment from the effected neighbors ran against the “road diet” mostly for the very obvious reason expressed by NW. Even the study offered in support of the plan said the travel time by car from Piedmont to Ponce would be greatly lengthened. If the study is correct and people still insist it will not cause heavy traffic diversions onto narrow residential alternative streets then please call me…I have a beautiful Gulf front lot in Kansas I am trying to sell cheap!Report

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  6. Sally Flocks says:

    Street grids – which means connected streets that intersect at right angles – provide tremendous benefits, one of the most important being the ability to disperse traffic and thereby reduce the likelihood of bottlenecks. Streets through residential areas are public right of way – and “cut-through” traffic is a fact of life in Atlanta. Think of east-west travel. People who live in Druid Hills travel through Morningside and Ansley Park to get to jobs in Midtown. And people in Midtown drive through the same neighborhoods to get to Emory.

    Throughout the region, people have learned to adjust their travel patterns – especially what time they travel – to reduce the time it takes to get somewhere. During most hours of the day, Monroe has little traffic, which is why speeding is such a problem. If Atlanta continues to design roads to serve people who are traveling on 400/85, the quality of life for the city’s residents will continue to suffer.

    Saving lives is far more important than saving time. Pedestrian fatalities in George have increased by over fifty percent during the past 3 years. Half the deaths occurred in the Atlanta region. And sadly, this year is far worse. During the first six months of 2018, pedestrian fatalities are up by 22% compared to 2017. Without changes to our roads, this trend will continue.

    Like Kay Stephenson, I highly recommend implementing a six-month trial so people can experience the impact of the much-desired road diet.Report

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  7. Sally Flocks says:

    Posters presented at the June 28 meeting predicted a slight increase in travel delay if a road diet was implemented, as well as a 10% drop in traffic volume on Monroe Drive and a 5 to 6% increase in traffic on other streets.Report

    Reply
  8. Ginny Connelly says:

    from the report:

    “Another idea that would reduce traffic along Monroe Drive would be to extend 8thStreet eastward, have it wrap around the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and connect to the Home Depot and the Ponce de Leon retail district.”

    I am 100% in favor of this idea. It’s ridiculous that the Home Depot and Ponce shopping center are accessible ONLY from Ponce! No wonder the parking lot there is known as the Roach Motel: “You can get in but you can’t get out!”Report

    Reply
  9. Jim Martin says:

    Renew Atlanta was always about repackaging the operating expenses of road maintenance to look like capital investments so that they could be paid for with borrowed money.Report

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  10. Charles A says:

    The Atlanta NIMBY contingent that regularly seeks to quash progressive transit measures needs to wake up. Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities and will never again be the small city of the past with traffic-free in town commutes.
    We need to make it safe for all forms of transit, especially walking and bicycle. Try walking or biking on Monroe. It’s horrible! Also, the NASCAR like swerving from lane-to-lane to avoid left-turners is dangerous and more people will die if it’s not modernized to a more organized flow. Let’s fix Monroe people!!Report

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  11. KC says:

    Monroe needs more safety- this proposal is disgraceful in that it does NOTHING to deliver on this mandate and improve safety for cars, pedestrians, or bikers after 3 years of study (with our tax money we voted in for them of course). I was almost hit by a car in a crosswalk by a car turning from Monroe onto Kanuga- there is no turn lane so cars make their own by driving on the wrong side of the street on Monroe! They are unpredictable; after you have looked they speed out of nowhere and do NOT yield to pedestrians!!!

    Folks sometimes draw a false dichotomy between Monroe and neighborhood streets. Advocating for safety first on all the roads- except one- doesn’t make sense. Monroe is a street in our neighborhood, too. It is lined by single family homes and crossed constantly by families from in and outside VaHi every day going to the park and school. All the people who use that road deserve safety. Of course it has lots of cars, but busy doesn’t have to mean unsafe. Changes like the road diet can use engineering principles to influence behavior and make roads safer for everyone. Less swerving, more visibility, less lane closures due to wrecks. Let’s not miss this historic opportunity. We must stand together for every road in our neighborhood. Saving lives is our top priority.Report

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  12. CM says:

    Thank you, KC. Well said. And so many good points.

    I often drive down Kanuga and take a right on Monroe only to face a car in my travel lane. It’s terrifying. And crossing Monroe to get to the park, which my family and I do all the time as pedestrians, is also terrifying. It’s insane how unsafe Monroe is.

    The time for the Monroe Road Diet is now.Report

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  13. Chris Johnston says:

    Charles A, the 2017 estimated City population is less than in 1960 and 1970, over 50 years ago. And I remind you that the Census Bureau estimated the City’s population as 500,000 just before the 2010 Census, only to find later the official count was 420,000.Report

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  14. Charles A says:

    Chris, what conclusion would you like us to draw from that statistic? The overall city population is fairly irrelevant. We know the residential and business populations of our surrounding areas — Midtown, Buckhead, Inman Park, O4W, Brookhaven are all booming, and the metro area population will soon surpass Philadelphia for #8 largest in US. These people will all come in town to work, shop, and play. Any size road will be choked at rush hour. We should be aiming for safety of all commuters and pedestrians who have the ability to take a car off the road as part of their commute.Report

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  15. JC says:

    Let’s take baby steps and focus on issues before we create additional traffic nightmares. Monroe Drive is a street designed for cars. Changing a street’s focus would be disasterous on this very busy section of Monroe. Fix, and maintain the intersections and crosswalks first, replace curbs, repave sidewalks so they can be used, enforce overgrowth zoning and bury the power lines to get rid of the power poles encroaching onto sidewalks and reduce enforced speed limit to a consistent 25MPH. These are the issues. Reducing traffic lanes will do nothing to improve my safety and will actually shift safety issues to surrounding streets and neighborhoods.

    10th street designated bike lane created additional traffic flows into Midtown and additional safety issue for me as poles marking bike paths are dangerously close to my handlebars and lane ends abruptly prior to Piedmont Ave. I use Piedmont Park as a safer, nicer, quieter ride.

    I walk and I bike and the last thing I want is to walk around stalled traffic and frustrated drivers as a result of a road diet for a street that has traffic counts at 25,000 per day. Travel to large cities around the country to see what works and what doesn’t work. Pedestrians need to be safe and safety is achieved through marked and enforced intersections and slowing speeds down, not by diverting traffic onto secondary neighborhood streets.Report

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  16. Chris Johnston says:

    Charles A, I pointed out a glaring error in your previous post. The conclusions I draw from the statistic are (1) you either failed to research before you wrote or decided to write regardless of facts to the contrary, and (2) there are many parts of the City not experiencing the growth you revel in.Report

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  17. Sally Flocks says:

    Atlanta is growing and is likely to grow far more. The estimated 2017 population is 486,290. City Hall projections show that the city’s population could almost triple by 2050.And Atlanta is planning ahead for 1.2 million people by 2050. As Commissioner Tim Keane said, “We’ve got to have a clear picture of a better Atlanta with more people.” https://bit.ly/2JdWe0DReport

    Reply
  18. akafrankgreen says:

    You make an excellent point about superior bike facilities running parallel to Monroe/Boulevard, within a block for the majority of its length. When completed, the Beltline will eliminate the need for anyone to bike on Monroe. Now, adequate sidewalks and traffic calming are indeed a must for the road. And the 10th/Monroe/Virginia intersection needs to be addressed.Report

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  19. Sally Flocks says:

    JC, You sound a bit like people from the auto industry during the 1920s and 1930s, which is when “motordom” took control of streets that had been shared by all users, got laws passed that limited pedestrians to walking on sidewalks and crossing at crosswalks only, and began ridiculing people as “jaywalkers.” Streets in the older parts of Atlanta were designed for walking and streetcars, not automobiles.

    What we have today is unsafe. And without doubt, reducing the number of lanes will eliminate the weaving that is responsible for a large share of car wrecks. Reducing posted speed limits is unlikely to reduce the speed at which people travel – and it’s unrealistic to expect the police to make routine traffic enforcement on Monroe a high priority.

    With the exception of people who “block the box,” I have no problem walking in areas with traffic congestion. Speeding traffic is one of the greatest risks to people walking – and it’s something that doesn’t happen during times with heavy traffic volume.

    People in cars require far more per capita space than people who are walking, bicycling, or using public transit. And as the region’s population continues to grow, we cannot allow motorists to continue being road hogs.Report

    Reply
  20. Chris Johnston says:

    Sally, let me remind you of recent history that seems forgotten. Prior to the 2010 Census, the City and ARC estimated a City population of 500,000. The Census Bureau count showed 420,003, an increase of only 3,529 since the 2010 Census. Mayor Reed was very displeased, and he huffed, and he puffed, and he threatened to sue the Census Bureau. Then he quietly said no more. Why? Because the Census Bureau’s count was correct and the overblown estimates were wrong.
    The City’s peak population was 496,973 in the 1970 Census. I will be surprised if the 2020 Census shows a higher population.
    But let’s assume a 500,000 population in the 2020 Census. For the City’s population to triple by the 2050 Census, the population must increase 3.73% every year. If the City population increased at this rate since 2010, the 2020 population would be 604,000, not 500,000.
    Ain’t gonna happen – no way, no how. It’s a city planner’s job security dream.Report

    Reply
  21. Sally Flocks says:

    We can agree to disagree on this. 1.3 million is a projection and an aspiration. Atlanta’s population may not increase that much. But it will grow. It’s quite unlikely that the condos and apartments that are under construction or in the pipeline in Midtown, the Old 4th Ward, and elsewhere will remain vacant.Report

    Reply
  22. Chris Johnston says:

    Sally, many of those condos are vacant, bought by investors with borrowed money. It’s not much different than 10 years ago when the real estate market collapsed. But 2008 couldn’t happen again, could it?
    ROFLReport

    Reply
  23. CM says:

    Thank you for your great observations, kaystephenson, particularly the history of Piedmont Ave: “Piedmont was made one-way in the 60s when the population of downtown neighborhoods was nil.” The population of Virginia-Highland and other intown neighborhoods was also at its lowest in the 1960s. So much change since the 1960s in density and traffic patterns. Making Piedmont Ave two-way again from M.L.K. Jr Dr to 14th Street would be a great start to ameliorating gridlock in general and increasing driver and pedestrian safety on Monroe Dr.Report

    Reply
  24. Sally Flocks says:

    Midtown Alliance plans to install protected bicycle lanes and designated parking lanes on Piedmont. Central Atlanta Progress also plans to install bicycle lanes on Piedmont. Midtown Alliance also plans to convert two travel lanes of Juniper Ave to make room for protected bicycle lanes and parallel parking.Report

    Reply

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