With dollars short of building promises, Atlanta gets advice to do complete streets
By Maggie Lee
The man overseeing cuts to a pair of major Atlanta public works programs says that so far, he’s hearing that the public wants to prioritize bike, pedestrian and street upgrades.
“The community feedback received suggested a strong preference for the complete streets scenario,” said Joshua Williams, deputy chief operating officer of the city of Atlanta, speaking to a City Council committee on Wednesday.
“Complete streets” are those that have space for for cars, pedestrians and cyclists to all use safely. The other two scenarios that the public has seen emphasized work like road repaving and signal improvements, or big-ticket items that could attract the most matching funds.
For the last few months, Williams has been looking into what to do with two bond programs that promised Atlantans $940 million in road, sidewalk, bridge and other public works. Atlantans voted for the programs, Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST, in 2015 and 2016. But the programs are only going to be able to deliver $530 million in projects. That’s a $410 million shortfall and cuts that have to be made.
The city’s staff is looking at how to prioritize projects. They’re weighing things like safety, equity and mobility.
Renew/TSPLOST has also held four public meetings this year. Williams said the meetings had more than 300 attendees overall. The city has also received more than 1,500 public surveys, Williams said. So that’s where he’s getting much of the feedback that says complete streets are a priority.
Williams’ team’s preliminary recommendation does emphasize complete streets, more than 26 miles of them. But they also would resurface more than 135 miles of road and improve the traffic lights at more than 330 intersections.
Broadly, Council members thanked Williams for his attention and transparency. Several said it’s very much a change from what they’ve seen from the city. Williams joined the city last year, hired by Mayor Keisha Lance bottoms about six months into her own new administration.
But the members of Council are also hearing from their constituents. A lot.
Councilman Amir Farokhi asked about DeKalb Avenue, which partially runs through his eastside district.
DeKalb Avenue is still scheduled for repaving and re-striping, to remove the reversible lane, according to a working document presented by Williams. (Page 19 of Williams’ slides)
But the “complete streets” upgrades — roomy safe spaces for cyclists and pedestrians — have been put under “design only.” Not construction.
Farokhi said that from his DeKalb Avenue constituents, “there is a lot of hunger and desire to see pedestrian and bicycle safety.” He asked Williams if some bike or pedestrian safety upgrades might still happen.
Williams said DeKalb Avenue might get some kind of pilot project for bike and pedestrian safety improvements without a “complete street” upgrade.
Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who represents part of southeast Atlanta, said she was concerned about the public meeting in her district. She said she felt like a lot of the publicity was done on social media, and that she knows a lot of her constituents are not on social media. Besides that, she said Carver Early College is not a good location, that she got calls from constituents asking their way around the large campus.
“Begin to understand the culture of how communities connect and making sure we get people there. I’ll do robocalls, but the city can do some of that too,” Sheperd told Williams.
Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet, who represents part of southwest Atlanta, asked Williams to come back to her district for another public meeting.
“There are at least two other major arteries in my district that are not even on the design list,” she said, referring to a lack of lights and sidewalks on Childress Drive and Harbin Road.
She told Williams that she appreciates Renew and TSPLOST’s work, and that her district needs more of it.
A second round of public meetings has been scheduled by Renew/TSPLOST and will begin on Feb. 26.
Williams said he expects Renew/TSPLOST’s final recommendation to be presented to the Council via Transportation Committee in mid- to late-March.
Slides from Renew Atlanta/TSPLOST: Renew Atlanta TSPLOST Quarterly update February 2019