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Bike, pedestrian plans may help ease Gainesville traffic
Citys plan includes 42 small, large proposals
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Gainesville resident Tricia Terrell has bicycled since childhood and currently rides every day during the summer, she said. The former Flowery Branch resident hasn’t found Gainesville streets as bike friendly as she had expected. - photo by NAT GURLEY

For her part, Gainesville resident Tricia Terrell would like others to join her in getting on their bikes and riding.

“The future to making Gainesville a healthy, happy and successful place to live in is improving the quality of life of its inhabitants,” she said. “Encouraging people to walk, bicycle and lead a healthier lifestyle ... can contribute to that.”

Area officials believe pedestrian and bicycle travel also might provide another answer to Gainesville’s growing traffic congestion problems, as the newly released City of Gainesville Transportation Master Plan recommends foot- and pedal-powered improvements through 2040.

“Being multimodal these days is a tremendous thing,” said Dee Taylor, Gainesville’s traffic engineer.

“I know some people will say, ‘This is touchy-feely, we don’t need to spend money on this,’ but there’s money available for these types of projects, so why shouldn’t we have them in Gainesville?”

Solutions to solving traffic woes have traditionally focused on widening streets and just generally “adding capacity” — and there’s plenty of that in the master plan — but there’s belief that bike and pedestrian pathways will help ease congestions.

“Part of our multifaceted approach to the transportation issues in Gainesville is trying to evaluate everything,” said Chris Rotalsky, Gainesville’s assistant public works director. “There may be some resources available with bike and pedestrian improvements that will also help our vehicular traffic improvements.

“So, we don’t want to count out any of our potential solutions.”

Like road projects, recommended bike and pedestrian improvements in the master plan are spread over three time frames: 2013-20, 2021-30 and 2031-40. The completed plan was posted on the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s website.

The first time frame calls particularly for sidewalks and sharrows, which, through pavement markings, help “identify bicycle routes along low-volume, low-speed roadways,” according to the master plan, which was developed by Norcross consultant Pond & Co. in league with area officials and public input.

“Many of these roadways have residential development on them, but connect to commercial jobs, retail, parks and schools,” the report states. “Sharrows are relatively inexpensive to add to a roadway, as only markings and signage are needed.

“This makes short-term implementation feasible. Sharrows also provide connections to proposed multi-use trails and bicycle lanes as those projects are implemented.”

Sidewalks dominate the 2021-30 and 2031-40 time frames, with construction taking place on roads such as Beverly Road, Browns Bridge Road, Dixon Drive and Memorial Park Drive.

“Complete streets” also play a role in the bike/pedestrian plan.

Those are streets that allow for all travel modes, including vehicular, pedestrians, bicycles and transit.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has developed the Complete Streets Program as a way to work with local governments and regional planning agencies “to ensure that bicycle, pedestrian, and transit needs are addressed beginning with system planning and continuing through design, construction, and maintenance and operations,” according to its website.

Gainesville Mayor-elect Danny Dunagan said he believes biking has grown in popularity, and more people are out walking along major corridors in town.

“There are trails along the side of the road where they’ve worn the grass down,” he said. “We need to look at putting in sidewalks, especially up and down major corridors.”

Gainesville, meanwhile, doesn’t have a complete lack of trails.

The city has the Midtown Greenway, a multiuse trail from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to north of Parker Street that was finished in 2012. City officials have said they hope to start the greenway’s second phase — running from MLK to Industrial Boulevard — in 2014 instead of its scheduled 2015 start.

The third phase calls for extending the trail east to the Fair Street neighborhood, and the fourth phase extends south to the Central Hall Multiuse Trail that Hall County is developing.

The Central Hall trail would run parallel to Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway from Palmour Drive to the Georgia Department of Labor Office at 2756 Atlanta Highway. 

A second phase calls for running the trail behind Lanier Technical College and the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.

A third project calls for construction of a pedestrian tunnel under Atlanta Highway.

Bidding on the Central Hall project could take place in April.

An $8.7 million DOT project to replace Clarks Bridge on Lake Lanier in Gainesville calls for an 8-foot bike path in each direction and construction of a new pedestrian tunnel under Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road.

Terrell said she is particularly eager about the city plan’s suggestion to improve pedestrian crossing at Green Street and Riverside Drive, near City Park.

“That’s huge for the football (spectators) and, for me personally, I could get to the shops (in the area),” she said. “At the moment, I get into the car, because there’s no way you can cross that road safely.”

Overall, Terrell believes the master plan is a step in the right direction, but she’d like to see a “more dynamic approach ... to encourage people to bicycle safely and easily around the city.”

That would include bike maps made readily available and routes posted on the street.

“Many cities ... have really improved the life of a bicyclist,” Terrell said. “Of the top 50 cities for bicyclists in the U.S., there is not one in Georgia. Why can’t Gainesville aim for that?”

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