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.

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