city hall bikes

Members of the cycling community were out in full force to support the Athens in Motion plan, as well as the Barnett Shoals reconfiguration, at the Oct. 2, 2018 meeting of the Athens Mayor and Commission.

As voters across the state were finishing up at the polls in the 2018 midterm election, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission met for its November work session and where voted 5-4 to repave the Barnett Shoals lane reconfiguration.

Along with repaving, the plan selected by the commission will add sharrows to the road, a type of road marking indicating where commuters are encouraged to cycle.

As the vote count would indicate, the issue was hotly debated by the members of the commission, only passing after a previous motion by District 4 commissioner Allison Wright failed to pass.

Wright’s plan would have seen the road repaved to three lanes, with a bike lane added to either side of the road, a plan also supported by Mayor-elect Kelly Girtz, and commissioners Mariah Parker and Melissa Link.

“Sharrows are not bike facilities. They’re basically glorified signage,” Link said.

Approved by the commission unanimously at the Sept. 4 mayor and commission meeting, the lane reconfiguration was a traffic experiment on Barnett Shoals Road between Forest Road and Whitehall Road where the existing four-lane road was restriped to three lanes of auto traffic to create a two-way bike line.

The reconfiguration has been a hot button topic at mayor and commission meetings since its rollout, with cyclists and drivers showing up to share their experience with the new lanes. Public forum results from the experiment’s initial timeframe show that 73 percent of respondents opposed the reconfiguration.

Bike Athens board members once again spoke out on the plan at the meeting, with executive director Tyler Dewey and secretary Carol Myers stepping up to the podium for public comment. Dewey and Myers both supported a separate option for a bike lane to be added onto either side of the road.

“We still believe that protected bike lanes are the best solution to making Barnett Shoals a complete street, a safe comfortable street for all of us,” Dewey said.

Bike Athens has remained vocal on Twitter about the organization’s displeasure with the commission’s choice of sharrows over bike lanes. This was not, however, Bike Athens’s only point of contention with the meeting.

The commission started off the session with a surprise vote to reconsider the previously accepted Athens in Motion bike and pedestrian master plan.

The motion was brought forward by District 1 Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson and seconded by District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod. Herod cited the absence of District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith from the original vote on the plan as a point for concern.

“We don’t have a way to modify this plan or change the priorities … I don’t think we should have a plan in place unless we have a process for modifying that plan,” NeSmith said at the Nov 6 meeting. “I have needs on the West Side that I would like to be considered that have not been considered I think largely perhaps because of the makeup of the citizens committee that did this work.”

Following a 6-3 vote with commissioners Melissa Link, Allison Wright and Kelly Girtz voting no, the commission moved the item for reconsideration to the end of the agenda at the meeting.

Once the topic returned to the table, Dickerson and NeSmith raised concerns with the process of project selection and equity across Athens. It was District 9 commissioner Kelly Girtz who introduced a motion to accept the plan and go forward as planned with the first phase of the plan pending a Jan. 10 work session for commissioner input.

Girtz’s motion succeeded by a vote of 8-1, with Dickerson being the sole no vote.

“It takes a big perspective transformation to rethink our roads as more than auto infrastructure,” Myers said.

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