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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.