Monday, September 20, 2010

Imagining the Future

I attended a meeting a few weeks ago about the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail. Their consulting team - Perkins+Will and James Corner Field Operations (who designed New York City's High Line project) have been hard at work taking the BeltLine trail concept to completion for this segment.

It was exciting to see how the corridor could be transformed.

But there are still many very sticky situations to resolve, and some very big questions looming. It will be a major transportation facility - but what if the City of Atlanta sees it as a park and wants to close it at night? How do you design a "driveway" for bicyclists to get on the trail from nearby streets, while directing pedestrians down to the crosswalk and providing connections for wheelchair users? How wide does it need to be for unknown future volumes of bicycle and pedestrian traffic (and the associated dogs, strollers, trailers, etc.)?

At the moment, certain parts of the project look fairly dire, such as the northern terminus of this trail segment, which enters Monroe Drive about 100 feet north of Tenth Street. Until the entire three-way intersection can be reconstructed, it will be extremely difficult to get on or off the trail. There currently is no crosswalk across Monroe on the northern side of the intersection and no phase of the traffic signal which does not have vehicles moving through that leg of the intersection. Someone walking down the BeltLine to go to Park Tavern or Piedmont Park would have to walk past Tenth, cross Monroe, and cross Tenth, adding at least a minute of delay. Or they can make a run for it north of the intersection - since Kanuga Street, the next street to the north, is not signalized, it is legal to cross mid-block as long as you yield to vehicular traffic.

Bicycles are threatened with a forced dismount here. They would experience considerable delay and have no safe way to re-enter traffic flow on Monroe or Tenth. And of course, very few people would actually dismount and misconceptions about cycling would be reinforced... Adding a curb cut here, and everywhere, has the added challenge of how to prevent it from being mistaken as a continuing path by a blind pedestrian, who then wanders into the road. An important question, but not one that should bring such a major project into uselessness. Especially since ADA violations for blind pedestrians are rampant throughout the city, even on brand new sidewalks, with missing tactile strips at curb cuts, ramps that angle towards the center of the intersection rather than the crosswalk, and crosswalks that change direction without any detectable warning. For the BeltLine, we need some sort of "do not enter" cue. A mountable curb seems like the most obvious option - it would feel like a curb to someone holding a cane, but is only a few inches high and can be ridden over by a cyclist.

The temporary solution for pedestrians may be a new all-red phase at the traffic signal, presumably paired with a pedestrian scramble. But bicyclists cannot really proceed on a pedestrian signal, and would still have to travel on the sidewalk to get to it. The obvious answer to me is an advanced stop bar on southbound Monroe before the Park Tavern driveway (which should not be blocked by traffic anyway). This would create a traffic-free stretch of road that bicycles could enter during the all-red phase. 

Now is the time to deal with these questions - while the designers are still drawing and the BeltLine is still a channel of dirt, gravel, and kudzu. Let's not wait for users to get frustrated, disillusioned, or injured. Let's give this transportation project, and its users, the same level of priority that we would give to a road project. No delays, no long detours, no missing intersections. A reason to travel by bicycle.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing this. Your comment about the possibility of the Beltline trail being closed at night spooked me, so I just looked up the published rules for the existing PATH network ( Unbelievably, they are currently closed after dark! Given that, it’d actually be surprising if the Beltline doesn’t adopt the same policy. The good news, though, is that it doesn’t seem to be enforced currently. But it begs the question: how can a logical human actually design a transportation corridor that is only open during daylight hours? If safety is the concern, maybe we should close the connector at sunset?

    All of your other concerns are very valid as well. If you haven’t already, please forward your post on the Beltline people directly. The Monroe intersection also makes me extremely nervous. One possible fix that I see would be to provide access to the Midtown shopping center behind Trader Joes. Cyclists could then use the light at 8th to access residential Midtown or to get onto 10th.

    I sincerely hope that the people designing this thing are thinking it through. But I’m prepared to be disappointed.