With a “road diet” pilot program set to begin on Prince Avenue starting soon, the ACC government has released an interactive map that illustrates the project concept and explains what to expect as it moves forward.
What’s changing on Prince Avenue?
Starting in about two weeks, Prince Avenue will shrink from a total of four car lanes of traffic (two on each side) down to three lanes (one on each side with a center turn lane). This will slow down traffic to improve safety. It will also create the space to add bike lanes on each side, which will be protected from car traffic by small barriers such as Zicla Zippers and TranSafe flex posts.
The visibility of crosswalks along the corridor will be upgraded to increase safety for pedestrians. Other changes include “bulb-out” curb extensions at intersections which will tighten turning angles for cars and help keep them away from pedestrians and cyclists. Speed bumps will also be installed at the corners of some intersections to discourage cars from traveling through the bulb-out areas. Finally, the mid-block crosswalk near Newton Street will be shifted slightly west from its current location.
These changes will start near Milledge Avenue and will stretch about a half mile towards downtown to Pulaski Street. This pilot project will last for at least 60 days, at which point the mayor and commission will decide whether or not it should continue.
The ACC Department of Transportation and Public Works will collect traffic data on Prince Avenue before and during the pilot and also along any side streets that may be impacted, such as Boulevard.
Why is this happening?
As explained in the story map, the purpose of the road diet is to calm traffic without greatly increasing travel time with the aim of improving safety for all users. Speeding is often a problem on this road which can put pedestrians, cyclists and even other drivers at risk of serious injury or death.
Prince Avenue was identified as a road in need of safety improvements like protected bike lanes in the Athens in Motion plan that was passed by the mayor and commission in 2018, but also well before that. Lauren Blais, chair of the Athens in Motion Commission, told APN that the current plans are to install “long overdue” safety features which will make Prince Avenue a safer road for everyone, but she emphasized that this isn’t the only reason for the project.
”It’s not just that facilities like separated bike lanes will make things safer, it’s that it will also increase the perception of safety, which is really just as important,” Blais said. “If you want them to come out, people have to feel comfortable and safe, not just for themselves, but for their family and friends.”
Blais recorded a video of herself standing on the Prince Avenue sidewalk as a way of illustrating the current conditions on the road, which she feels are unsafe:
Some Prince Avenue business owners also support the road diet idea.
Jessica Greene, owner of The Grit, told APN that slowing down the “barrage of speeding cars” along Prince Avenue would help customers get to her restaurant and enjoy their meal once they arrive.
“More and more people are accustomed to dining outside at restaurants since the pandemic began, and as a restaurant owner, slower traffic means a more pleasant dining experience for my customers,” Greene said.
It also means safer conditions for people crossing Prince on foot, which Greene felt was extremely important. “I would like to see Prince Ave accommodate the people who live and shop and dine in the area, including tourists, rather than simply the cars traveling through.”
But will traffic on Prince back up as a result?
Despite being a supporter of the plan, Greene admitted that “traffic will probably back up at [the intersection of Prince and] Pulaski at certain times of day.” However, she added that a short delay, annoying as it would be, is not be a good reason to keep the current, dangerous design of Prince Avenue unchanged.
“A few weeks ago I was in a long queue of cars traveling south on Milledge waiting for the light at Lumpkin. It seems like you have to wait ages for that light to change, but when I actually timed it, it was two minutes,” Green said. “Two minutes out of my whole day really isn’t that big of a deal!”
The ACC government wants to hear from you
Prince Avenue’s road diet will begin in about two weeks. Once that happens, the local government will update the story map to include the ability for the public to provide feedback on the project.
Whether you love it or hate it, you’ll be able to leave a comment soon (and you should!).