By John Schaffner
A comprehensive study of Piedmont Road from Roswell Road to I-85 is nearing completion and the public had its final opportunity to view the proposals being put forth and offer input at two public meetings Nov. 28—one for commuters and business owners, the other for residents.
“Piedmont Road is at capacity, which means we have to make other ways of getting to Buckhead part of the solution,” said Denise Starling, executive director of the Buckhead Area Transportation Management Association (BATMA) and project manager of the study.
“The plan that we have developed – with strong community input – is a series of many small changes that add up to big improvements for the entire corridor and all of Buckhead,” she added.
The meetings presented the public with the proposed plans for the Piedmont Corridor, as well as taking time to answer questions and gather opinions about the recommendations. The lunchtime meeting was geared toward commuters and Buckhead business owners to address commuter concerns, while the evening meeting displayed recommended segment plans for area residents.
One thing was certain to have pleased residents who live in the neighborhood between Piedmont Road and GA 400 and the Buckhead Loop and Roswell Road the earlier controversial recommended changes at the intersection of Piedmont and Roswell roads—which they argued cut off their only easy route in and out of their neighborhood—had been removed by these presentations.
The new near term proposed plan for the Piedmont/Habersham/Roswell/Powers Ferry roads intersections could involve widening Habersham to four lanes between Roswell and Piedmont roads—for which Coro Realty provided the right-of-way as part of the approval process for its Tremont condominium development—greatly extending the northbound left turn lane on Piedmont onto Habersham all the way back to the signal light in front of Piedmont Center, greatly extending the northbound left turn lane from Roswell Road onto Powers Ferry Road, installing a new traffic signal on Roswell Road at Powers Ferry and regularly coordinating the signals in the area every two years.
The plan no longer proposes closing down the area of northbound Piedmont Road between Habersham and Roswell roads and turning it into a green space.
The long-term plan for the Piedmont/Habersham/Roswell roads intersections will be left to the city, since a solution involving these intersections could interact with other intersections outside the study area of the Piedmont Corridor Study.
Transportation consultants at Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. drafted over 75 recommendations to further develop the Piedmont Corridor. The recommendations suggest ways to improve Piedmont intersections, pedestrian walkways and transit throughout Buckhead: Those recommendations were presented at the two public meetings at the DoubleTree Hotel Buckhead on Nov. 28.
“Creating this improvement plan has been a collaborative, community-based effort from the start,” said Scotty Greene, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID), which led this effort in partnership with BATMA. “Providing commuters, business owners and residents one more chance to get informed and weigh in can only make the final recommendations even stronger.”
Starling said the early afternoon session for commuters and business owners was something new and very important. She said the statistics indicate that commuters contribute significantly to the problems along the Piedmont corridor.
For instance, the daytime population, including workers and shoppers, is double the residential base (the daytime population is 170,000, while there are 70,000 residents). “That means that they are the problem,” Starling said.
She explained that these community planning efforts never get the commuter. “We are really going after that, to make sure that’s part of the picture, because that is part of the solution,” she said. A lot of the recommendations are geared to commuters and employers.
Starling said the growth figures for development under construction also are interesting with a 25% increase in office space, 9% increase in retail, 17% in hotel rooms and 31 percent increase in multi-family units. “That’s a lot,” she said, and that is not even the proposed increases over the next several years. “We are behind already and we have to catch up,” she added.
“What we are doing with the commuters is setting the stage and saying you are part of this,” Starling explained. “You need to be a voice at the table. We need to hear from you. A lot of the recommendations are aimed at you. We need to know if they are the right ones.”
Part of what Starling and her group are telling the commuters is “they have to become an advocate.” The decision making system is not oriented toward commuters. It is oriented toward residents, she explained.
Some of the other major recommendations presented included:
All of the Piedmont corridor from the Buckhead Loop south to I-85 would be reconfigured to add a median with left-turn lane areas. The segments from the Buckhead Loop to Pharr Road would have three through traffic lanes in both directions, as would the section from Sidney Marcus Boulevard to Lindbergh Drive. The segments between Pharr Road and Sidney Marcus Boulevard and Lindbergh Drive and I-85 would have three through lanes southbound and two northbound.
Starling explained that all day long there is more southbound traffic than southbound traffic the full length of the Piedmont corridor.
No median with left turn areas are planned between the Buckhead Loop and Roswell Road, but Starling said she is surprised with the lack of discussion about a planned new connection street between Piedmont Road at the traffic signal in front of Piedmont Center to Roswell Road just north of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church. She feels it will be a great new connection road.
Two new connecting streets are suggested between Piedmont Road and Maple Street in the area south of Peachtree and north of East Paces Ferry, which would fill out the limited street grid in that area and could facilitate some favorable redevelopment of the area and improve accessibility. It would add a couple of new traffic signals on Piedmont, Starling said. “But this is a very long block and breaking it up into more urban scale blocks is also very good for pedestrian activity and safety. The thought for the new streets is that they would have more retail and outdoor café type frontage,” she added. “The new connections would happen when the sites redevelop as part of the proposed redevelopment.”
New HOV-only exit/entrance ramps are recommended on GA 400 at Lindbergh. These ramps would let Cobb County commuters and others coming to Buckhead from the northwest use I-75 to the Brookwood interchange to I-85 and to GA 400, rather than reaching Buckhead by cutting through residential city streets, such as West and East Wesley, Northside Parkway and West Paces Ferry.
“This recommendation is designed to facilitate alternative mode use by making it more attractive,” Starling said. “The recommendation is paired with one to provide express bus service to Buckhead from Cobb and Cherokee counties. The new connections will certainly not eliminate cut-through traffic, but should make the options more attractive,” she added.
Improvements are being proposed to the GA 400/Sidney Marcus/Buford Highway and Cheshire Bridge Road intersections, which would add a third southbound land from GA 400 ramp onto Sidney Marcus, widen Sidney Marcus to three lanes eastbound, add a third eastbound left turn lane from Sidney Marcus to Buford Highway, widen Buford Highway from Sidney Marcus to Lenox Road from two to three lanes, and add left turn lanes from Buford Highway onto Lenox Road and from Cheshire Bridge onto Buford Highway.
In terms of transit improvements, it is proposed that express bus service be routed directly to Buckhead, serving the Buckhead MARTA station and Piedmont Road office buildings between the Buckhead Loop and Habersham Road.
Starling said a new shuttle bus route is recommended to connect the Buckhead Loop to Piedmont Center on the east side of the Prominence Building. Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association, questions why it would not be better to route it west of the Prominence Building where there is an existing driveway and it could be kept away from the Glenridge Place condo complex. He suggests there also may be concerns that any new road to such a congested area could easily grow into a major four-lane conduit in people’s backyards.
Starling explains that this “new access is intended to facilitate shuttle and express bus movement in order to make it a more attractive option and get people out of their cars. The new connection would be HOV-only and it is unlikely that it would ever become a major roadway, given the proximity to GA 400. Georgia Department of Transportation engineers are concerned that a heavy vehicular load at this intersection would disrupt both Buckhead Loop and GA 400 and shut down the highway system,” she added.
Other transit proposals include expanding the BUC service down Piedmont to the Lindbergh Drive area, provide BeltLine access to the Lindbergh MARTA Station and new connections to Peachtree Road, consolidate the MARTA bus stops along Piedmont and increasing the frequency of both MARTA train and bus service. Starling said even MARTA says there is not enough bus service on Piedmont Road.
The corridor study group also has produced a rather extensive system of bike routes through Buckhead, parts of which Starling said have been rather controversial.
Buckhead Forest has objected to a proposed bike route through its neighborhood because it fears it may someday be enhanced to become a roadway connection between the Buckhead Loop and Peachtree Road. Peachtree Park objects to a bike path through its neighborhood simply because it feels the path might attract large groups of bicyclists there.
Starling said that following the presentations Nov. 28, all those attending –as well as those residents and commuters who did not attend—are being asked to log onto the BATMA website (www.batma.org) and participate in a survey regarding the recommendations.