West Roswell Elementary - Multi-Use Path?

It looks like the City of Roswell is doing the right thing and going to the Fulton County School Board to request an easement for a multi-use path along Hog Waller Creek.  The request went before the school board tonight and I'm not sure of the outcome yet (will update).  The path would be 10 feet wide. Here's an image of where the path would run.  

If this is approved, the next step would be to connect it down to Norcross St.  That would be a great step toward connectivity and toward making some safe routes to school for kids to walk and bike.

Cut-through or Connectivity?

There is a proposal floating around in its early stages for the Goulding property.  It would significantly increase the intensity of development along a new street through the 6 acre property by adding 28 townhomes and 10 detached houses.  The initial review of this proposal was at the Oct 9th Historic Preservation Commission meeting.  

To put it lightly, it did not go well.  Representation from every home on Goulding Pl showed up to voice their opposition.  They didn't like the intensity and felt that this plan would increase traffic and endanger pedestrians who regularly walk in the streets as there are no sidewalks.  

I spoke out in favor of one thing in the plan.  I do think that townhomes are a stretch for that property but they could work if done properly.  What I was in favor of was the street connectivity.  Here are some illustrations that make my point..

There are some topography challenges but this lack of connectivity is pitiful.

The site plan presented in Oct could provide for significant connectivity that could benefit local traffic. Red lines denote potential added connections.

The key here is to develop the street in a way that would not encourage cut-through traffic.  It is absolutely possible and can be done easily.  Lane widths should be NARROW.  The same width as those in Vickery Village in Cumming or even the Webb St in Historic Roswell.  Here's an image of a streescape from Vickery Village from DPZ as well as a Google Street View of Webb St

Street widths with 9 ft lanes successfully constrain speeds and cut-through traffic. image: DPZ.comWebb St with very narrow lanes. You simply can't speed here. image: Google StreetView

Here's my take on the street piece of this development.

Benefits (assumes narrow street widths of 9' lanes)

 

  • Added connectivity which will significantly increase walkability and bikability for residents north and west of the historic district
  • Potential for excellent infill development (keyword is potential)
  • Potential for much more connectivity in the future
  • Ability to draw some pedestrian and car traffic off Canton St (this is a city benefit and would obviously not be viewed the same way for those living on Goulding)
  • Historic home would become more accessible to the public

 

Drawbacks

 

  • Traffic would undoubtedly increase on Goulding Pl & Windy Pines Tr (really only a drawback for those living on Goulding and Windy Pines)
  • Some historic character would be lost around the Goulding house (but who sees it now anyway?)

 

In my book, this new street plan would be a huge win for the city.  It may be the only opportunity that Historic Roswell gets to add connectivity to this area.  If we get this wrong, it will be a big loss.  The next review looks to be December 10th.  More to come.

Pedicabs Are Finally Here..

We first mentioned the possibility of pedicabs (aka Rickshaws) coming to Historic Roswell here on NUR way back in February of 2012.  That was when the city adopted an ordinance that allowed businesses to operate pedicabs in and around the Canton St area.  This is a fantastic addition to transportation options around our historic district.  It effectively increases the radius where someone living in the area would choose not to take their car to get to another destination.  I'm a supporter of anything we can do to get people out of their cars in the heart of our city.  I live here and walk as much as possible but this additional option will definitely make me reconsider taking the car for a few of the trips where we choose not to walk.

The pedicabs will begin operation this weekend starting on Nov 8th.  They will operate from noon until midnight Friday through Sunday.  The original map of approved operations shows that they will be allowed to go from Prospect Street on the north to King Street on the south and from roughly Liberty Lofts on the east to the end of Goulding on the west.  That is better illustrated by the map below.

I can't wait to try one out!

 

MARTA is trying to be "SMARTA"

You may have heard lately that MARTA has gotten serious about persuing a "Northern Expansion"... The plan is being called Connect400 (learn more). Other than a very small minority that seems to have forgotten that they live near a City and not in the middle of Montana, the support is overwhelmingly positive for SOMETHING to be done.

There are a few options on the table: (this list is not all encompassing, but does cover the most popular)

1. Run a "Bus Rapid Transit" (or BRT) Line north from the North Springs Station up to Alpharetta and potentially further north to Cumming. This is an interesting proposal because it does help with having the buses avoid 400 traffic when making their way South to North Springs. However, that is ALL that this plan really does. It still forces those of us that live North of the River to change modes of transportation. We still would take a "bus-to-a-train". This would, at best, reduce our travel time by 5-10 minutes. Not exactly a great use of capital.

2. Extend "Light Rail" in a very similar fashion to the BRT plan (see above). Unfortunately, this idea is even worse as it is more expensive than Option 1 and would provide the exact same result.

3. Extend "Heavy Rail" North from North Springs up to Windward Parkway (and potentially further in the future). This is a plan to extend the current "Red" line that stops at North Springs further North to Windward Parkway with stops being added at Northridge, Holcomb Bridge, Mansell, North Point Mall, and Windward Parkway. This is a plan that has some real excitement and purpose. For those currently commuting from "North Fulton" (And I include anyone north of the River for this discussion), this would mean no longer having to cram onto 400 (or Roswell Road) with everyone else, in order to get over one of the two existing river crossings. (See previous post about that trainwreck...) You could drive (on surface streets) to the nearest MARTA station. Park your car and take ONE mode of transportation into Atlanta.

As an example, for those currently living in North Roswell/South Alpharetta and commuting to Buckhead: today's commute (if you try to take as much mass transit as possible) takes you 15 minutes (via car) to get to Mansell Park-And-Ride, 5 minutes to wait for the bus (if you're lucky), 20 minutes (via bus) to get to North Springs, 10 minutes to wait for the next train since you missed your regular one (usually), 15 minute train ride to Buckhead. Even if your office is only 5 minutes from the Buckhead Station that is 1 hour and 10 minutes to get to work, door-to-door. (Lots of empirical data here...)

If Option 3 was implemented, you'd drive 15 minutes to Old Milton Station (near 400), potentially wait 5 minutes for the next train, and then 20 minutes later you're in Buckhead, and 5 minutes after that, you're at work. That is a total of 45 minutes to work: Saving you 25 minutes EACH WAY. Plus, the fact that this commute is a single-mode-of-travel takes out all the stress involved in running from the bus to the train and hoping you make your connection... which you rarely make.

Extending Heavy Rail northward would lower commute times, take more cars off the road, and make commuting (heaven forbid) less stressful. Sounds like a good investment to me! ..But I ride MARTA from Holcomb Bridge on a regular basis.  What say you?

Here's a map of the proposed allignments.

 

 

More Roundabouts Please!!

This is a cross-post from my monthly column, Community Design Matters, in The Current.

If you have driven around North Fulton lately, you may have come across a roundabout in your travels.  Until recently, roundabouts were mostly a foreign phenomena.  Roswell got the dizzying party going just over two years ago with the first roundabout in North Fulton at the Grimes Bridge and Norcross St intersection.  At this point, the roundabouts of North Fulton are few in number but their impact cannot be larger and as you will see, we should build more.. a lot more. 

Did you know that over 7,000 people are killed and nearly 1 million are injured annually in the US in intersection related crashes?  A high percentage of these are right angle collisions that occur at signalized or signed intersections.  Roundabouts significantly reduce crashes especially severe ones.  Statistics from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety show that roundabouts reduce crashes by about 35%.  This is done in part by fully eliminating left turns across opposing traffic, which just happens to be the most dangerous maneuver a driver can make.  They virtually eliminate high speed and right angle crashes as well.  By doing this, they reduce injuries by 76% and fatalities by 90%.

Roundabouts are also safer for pedestrians as they reduce speeds, make drivers more cautious , prevent drivers from making left turns and allow a pedestrian to cross traffic that is moving in only one direction.  

For a driver just trying to get around, there is less stop and go which saves time and money.  Most impressively, a roundabout can handle between 4 and 5 times the amount of traffic in a given time period when compared to a standard signalized intersection.

For cities, they lower operational and maintenance costs and in most cases building one is comparable in price to building a standard intersection.  However, retrofitting a standard intersection as roundabout can be more expensive.

Currently, there are three operational roundabouts in North Fulton and at least five more are planned.  This is great but how do we compare to Carmel, Indiana the most roundabout crazed city in the US?  Carmel is an Indianapolis suburb of 79,000 people and it has at least 80 roundabouts.  They have done away with 78 traffic signals (over 80% of their intersections).  That’s amazing!

All of these benefits are fantastic and straight forward.  However, whenever a new roundabout is proposed, there are always going to be nervous or skeptical people.  Overcoming those fears and objections is fairly easy and North Fulton cities have done remarkably well in this area.  Cities should install their first roundabouts in non-critical locations which will help the fearful and skeptical overcome their fears and objections over time.  Having followed the Roswell roundabout for two years, this pattern is evident.  Online comments on news articles moved from concerned to positive quickly and anecdotal conversations follow the same trend.

So, with all of these benefits? Why aren’t we jumping on every opportunity to build a roundabout?

 

If you're interested in learning more, check out this video from the Federal Highway Administration:

Why is Holcomb Bridge the worst road in Metro Atlanta?

If you are a resident of Roswell, Alpharetta, or even Johns Creek, there is a phrase that you are absolutely petrified to see when driving anywhere in Roswell: Holcomb Bridge Road.

Why is that?  It's because the traffic and congestion on this road is by far the worst in nearly all of North Fulton.  Among the many, many reasons for this congestion (i.e. WAY too many lights...), the worst of them has to be the complete lack of coordination between the stop lights.  We are all forced to drive light-to-light catching every single red light along the way.  The worst part of it has to be when we look ahead down the road and see large sections of the road completely empty because we're all back, stuck at a red light.

When I say "coordination between the stop lights", I am referring to the concept that is, for some reason, foreign to the city planners of Roswell, Alpharetta, or any other town in the Greater Atlanta area (including Atlanta).  The idea is that the lights are timed so that once the first light turns green, the next stop light will turn green 10-15 seconds later, and then next light will turn green 10-15 seconds after that, etc.

Cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and even Los Angeles (WHAT?!) have coordination of stop lights to help traffic moving more smoothly during peak rush hour times.

Now, I do understand that people will say "Holcomb Bridge is two directions... how do you do that on a 2-direction road?"  The solution is: coordinate in the direction of rush hour traffic.  For Holcolm Bridge, coordination should happen in the direction of 400 in the morning and away from 400 in the afternoon and evening.

Lastly, and this is just perfect, the AJC had an article from March 2011 ("Turning Georgia's Traffic Signals Green") stating that the DOT was beginning an initiative to start coordinating lights throughout Metro-Atlanta and even named Holcomb Bridge Road specifically as one of the major arteries needing repair... Well, needless to say, I think there has been absolutely no action in those 2 years and things are just getting worse with the continual population growth in North Fulton County.

So, until Roswell or Alpharetta, figure out the most basic of road planning concepts (that even LOS ANGELES figured out), I'll continue to avoid Holcomb Bridge Road like the plague...  And I hope, for your sanity, that most of you do as well.

 

CNU Week: Sustainable Street Network Principles

I had planned to attend this years CNU21 in Salt Lake City but unfortunately won't be there.  It is one of those places where people interested in walkability, place making and quality development can go to nurture their inner geek.  This week, I'll be posting  a number of my favorite things about the new urbanist movement.


Let's call this Transportation Tuesday...  One of the most important aspects of our built environment is our transportation infrastructure.  Sidewalks, Streets, Roads, Highways, Railways, etc.. One of the most frustrating parts of good urban design is the fact that a DOT can crush a good development because the roads are poortly designed or because they won't allow proper widths due to a number of voodoo reasons that we won't get into here.  CNU has been working for a long time with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) through the CNU Project for Transportation Reform to come up with guidelines that will help build more people friendly places.  In 2012, the released their Sustainable Street Network Principles.

Here are the main points.  If you would like to dive into them, download the pdf.

Principles

 

  1. Create a Street Network That Supports Communities and Places
  2. Create a Street Network that Attracts and Sustains Economic Activity
  3. Maximize Transportation Choice
  4. Integrate the Street Network With Natural Systems at All Scales
  5. Respect the Existing Natural and Built Environment
  6. Emphasize Walking as the Fundamental Unit of the Street Network
  7. Create Harmony With Other Transportation Networks

 

Key Characteristics

 

  1. A web of streets and travel modes that maximize connectivity
  2. Desirable places where multiple networks overlap
  3. Inherently complex
  4. Major streets designed and spaced properly
  5. All streets safe and walkable
  6. Wide variety of street types, each with a role in the network

 

They forgot about the buses...

When the state of Georgia thought about how to ease congestion on Georgia 400, they did what most people would think of: just make the highway wider. As we all know, they converted the southbound, right shoulder lane from a lane that only buses could use (or regular cars in an emergency) to a lane that all cars can use between the hours of 6:30am and 10am Monday through Friday.

Has this alleviated the traffic problem? Has it even made it any better? Not by much...

And, what was the one thing that everyone forgot about? The buses... or more accurately, the bus schedules.

Before the change in lane use, the bus schedule gave 15 minutes for the 140 bus to get from Mansell Park-and-Ride to the North Springs Train Station. Assuming the bus would make the trip in 15 minutes, there is a 3 minute cushion between the bus arrival and the train departure. In a perfect world (i.e. Not Atlanta on a Monday morning), that gives you plenty of time to make the connection from bus-to-train.

However, now there is no dedicated bus lane on 400. The 140 bus has to drive (or, more accurately, idle) with all the other private and commercial traffic on the highway. That means the ride from Mansell to North Springs, on a typical traffic day, now takes longer than 15 minutes. If there is an accident, the ride can take as long as 25 minutes. On average, the 140 Bus misses the train about 50% of the time. That is a HORRIBLE ratio for a city that claims to be a "major metropolitan area".

There are several options for the City to consider as solutions to this problem:

1. Modify the bus schedules to account for the additional traffic. Change the time allotted to get from Mansell-to-North Springs, for example from 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Additionally, coordinate the new arrival times to leave 5-7 minutes between arrival and departure to allow for delays on bad traffic days. I am sure there are several other bus routes that could use this examination, but the 140 is the one most familiar to the writer.

2. Increase the frequency of trains during peak rush hour. I know people will scoff at this, but I am not asking for a lot here. The trains run every 15 minutes during PEAK time. That is 4 trains per hour. The suggestion I have it so make that one train every 10 minutes, or 6 trains per hour. And only for the 4 hours from 6am to 10am and then in the afternoon from 3pm to 7pm. This would be 8 hours a day with 2 additional trains per hour. Which would mean 16 additional trains per day. Doesn't sound like a big commitment. I'll openly admit that I am not aware of the capacity left in the MARTA train system, but I do ride past the train yards and see MANY cars sitting idle...

Without any changes to the MARTA system, people are arriving late to work because of late buses, missed trains, and an infrequent train schedule. In an economy that is just starting to get it's legs back, people can't afford to arrive late and face the possibility of losing their job. In a metropolitan area that desperately needs an improved mass transit system, the State has made it even less convenient to take your car off the highway and take mass transit.

The STROADs of North Fulton

This is a cross-post from my monthly column, Community Design Matters, with The Current.
Roads are inherently meant to connect places.  Ideally, they are higher speed with very few intersections, entrances and distractions.  They have wider lanes and more forgiving curves to provide added safety.  They differ significantly from streets which are meant to create places and capture and build upon the value in those places.  Well designed streets are typically straight and have many intersections.  They have narrower lanes and have sidewalks and sometimes bike lanes.  Turn lanes and acceleration lanes shouldn’t be present.  Traffic on properly designed streets is slower and it mixes with other modes such as pedestrians, bicyclists and pubic transportation.

 

Examples of properly functioning streets and roads in North Fulton are few and far between.  One street that comes to mind is Canton Street between Magnolia St and Woodstock Rd.  It functions very well as a street by taking multiple modes safely through an environment that defines a place. It is a destination point which is usually where streets are present.  A well functioning road (although not named a road) is actually Marietta Hwy from Roswell to East Cobb.  This road provides a high speed and efficient route from one destination to another with minimal interruptions from intersections, incoming/exiting traffic and shopping centers.  You can safely drive 50+ mph until you near the Avenue East Cobb or the Historic Square.  There are others that function well but most of our streets and roads are actually a dangerous and economically handicapped combination of the two.  

Chuck Marohn of StrongTowns.org has coined the term STROAD to describe a “street-road hybrid” which performs poorly at both functions.  Chuck calls a STROAD “the futon of transportation alternatives. Where a futon is an uncomfortable couch that also serves as an uncomfortable bed, a STROAD is an auto corridor that does not move cars efficiently while simultaneously providing little in the way of value capture.”  You can find STROADs all over North Fulton.  Any time you are driving between 30 and 50 mph, you are likely on a STROAD.  

Some of the more prominent STROADs here in N Fulton are Old Milton Parkway, Mansell Rd, Alpharetta Hwy (especially between Historic Roswell and Hembree Rd) and the grand daddy of all N Fulton STROADs, Holcomb Bridge Rd.  The constant barrage of shopping plazas, gas stations, subdivisions and intersections along roads that are supposed to move people from point A to point B eliminates much of the fast, efficient movement that roads should provide.  Couple the transportation issues with the fact that what we find along our STROADs should actually be concentrated along properly designed streets and you have a recipe for complete and utter inefficiency with a side of unnecessary danger.  

We deck our STROADs out with all the infrastructure necessary for a highly productive street but the revenue generated from the uses lining the STROAD in many cases does not support the maintenance of the infrastructure past one life cycle.  The combination of highway road geometries like wide lanes, turning lanes, merging and deceleration lanes and frequent traffic signals creates an environment ripe for crashes.  Any traffic engineer will tell you that one of the biggest culprits for collisions is speed differential.  When cars are traveling in the same space at differing speeds, you get crashes.  The STROAD is the Mecca for these types of scenarios.  All traffic is forced onto the STROAD from our subdivisions and shopping centers.  All traffic must leave the STROAD to get to it’s destination.  There is no common departure and arrival.  Everyone has a different departure and arrival point along the way.   

Mix a STROAD and pedestrians together and look out.  One of the most infamous stretches of STROAD in the nation is Buford Hwy south of I-285 where there is an intense mix of auto and pedestrian traffic.  Between 2000 and 2009, at least 22 pedestrians died along that stretch of Buford Hwy.  Here's a very interesting video on that road:

Fortunately, North Fulton does not have a location of that nature.  However, there is one very concerning spot that does come to mind.  That is Holcomb Bridge Rd just west of GA 400.  With the amount of illegal pedestrian activity at that intersection, we are one misstep away from a fatal collision.  That area needs a design makeover yesterday and these signs in the median aren't going to cut it.

In order to build stronger towns, safer places and more desirable environments, we need to begin to focus more on points A and B and less on getting people to what’s between them (usually strip malls, gas stations, car dealers).  We need to build more productive streets, like Canton St, and more efficient roads, like Marietta Hwy that will capture value where it should be captured and get people between destinations efficiently and safely.

This month’s column borrowed heavily from the ideas of Chuck Marohn with StrongTowns.org.  If you are interested in hearing more from Chuck, he will be speaking on April 25th at Town Hall | Roswell.  For more info on that event or to register for it, click here.

.

Who Is Speaking for the Trees?

I feel like the Lorax here but I thought the language of HB 501 being voted on tomorrow in our state legislature was interesting enough to share...
To amend Article 1 of Chapter 6 of Title 32 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions regarding the maintenance of public roads, so as to require the Department of Transportation to remove all trees in the public right of way that are capable of falling on an interstate or limited-access highway; to provide for the department to designate the removal of trees by a third party after a competitive bidding process; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
I could not find anything that told me whether this was:
  1. Cost Effective? - How much would cutting every tree that meets this definition cost?  How many are there?  How long would this take?
  2. Necessary? - How many crashes, injuries, deaths per year are caused by a tree falling on a road?  I'm sure there are some and don't want to sound insensitive to those people who have lost loved ones to an unfortunate accident of this nature but I'm just not convinced that there isn't lower hanging fruit out there.
  3. A Legitimate Safety Concern? - It sounds to me like a way around the Supreme Court case regarding trees covering billboard views.  The last sentence in the bill "All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed." made me think that might be the case.
You can send an email to your legislature through this link if you are opposed to a wholesale cutting of all trees meeting this definition.  Here's the link.
http://protectgeorgia.net/editalert-ckbox.asp?aaid=6990