Multi-modal or multi-use? That’s the question City Council members are debating as the council considers an updated comprehensive transportation plan.

At its Aug. 14 meeting, the council deferred voting on the plan until members could get more clarification as to what is meant by a “multi-modal path” and what is meant by a “multi-use path.”

A map of bicycle and pedestrian improvement recommendations in the city’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan update.

The council last month delayed voting on the transportation plan after disagreement arose over other issues related to the installation of a 12-foot-wide multi-use path on Tilly Mill Road from Mount Vernon Road to Womack Drive.

Disagreement also arose over a proposed multi-use path on North Peachtree Road to Winters Chapel Road via Tilly Mill Road and Peeler Road.
Councilmember Terry Nall specifically raised questions about the 12-foot multi-use trail on Tilly Mill Road encroaching on the property of residents who live along the busy thoroughfare.

Councilmember Doug Thompson, however, argued that multi-use paths in residential areas significantly increase property values while also providing safe places for people to walk and ride their bikes as car congestion becomes increasingly unbearable.

That debate led Public Works Director Michael Smith to remove any mention of “multi-use paths” in the updated comprehensive plan presented Aug. 14 and to replace the wording with the generic “multi-modal” term. Specific mention of size of a path also was removed from the updated version.

Smith explained to council that a multi-use path can generally be defined as a paved path separated from the road and that can accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, including people traveling on it in two directions.

A multi-modal path, he said, can accommodate cars (such as adding turn lanes), bicyclists, pedestrians and transit. Multi-modal can also include “sharrows,” or painted bike lanes on roads. However, a specific definition is not included in the plan itself, he acknowledged.

Several local cycling enthusiasts attended the Aug. 14 meeting urging the council to return the specific terminology “multi-use path” to the transportation plan.

Residents need a separated, buffered lane – or multi-use path – to feel safe to ride their bikes and “not just a white stripe,” Jason Metzger said. A multi-use path will also enable children to feel safe to ride their bikes to nearby schools, he said.

Bill Black commended the city for its progress in accommodating bike lanes throughout the city, but said it would be a step backwards if the city was to replace “multi-use” with “multi-modal” in the updated transportation plan

Joe Martinez said families won’t use bike lanes on main roads, but they will use multi-use paths. “We need paths, not just painted lines,” he said.

The cyclists pointed out that pedestrian and bicycle accessibility and connectivity rank high on the public’s desires for what they want in the city, according to public surveys on parks and transportation plans.

But Ken Levy, who lives on Dunwoody Glen at the corner of Tilly Mill Road and Womack Road, said he is concerned the construction of a 12-foot-wide multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists will not only take out the public right of way, but also his side-yard property along Tilly Mill, where he planted trees to provide privacy to his backyard. He said a 5-foot-wide sidewalk is fine for the area.

“I am very much affected by this trail,” he said at the council meeting. “Why do you want to route through people’s yards?”

Thompson, an avid cyclist, asked Smith if there was a definition of multi-modal and a multi-use definition included in the transportation plan. He also expressed concern about ensuring connectivity to Winters Chapel through a multi-use path, he said, and he believed using the word “multi-modal” did not ensure that possibility. “Multi-modal does not contemplate multi-use,” he said. “That’s a non-starter to me.”

Nall, however, said he was “personally pleased” with the changes made to remove “multi-use paths” because it allows for flexibility. He said multi-modal paths do include the possibility of all kinds of bike and pedestrian facilities, from protected lanes to cycle tracks.

“That is the definition of multi-modal … and having the ability to work with each segment when it’s ready to go when starting the design and concept phase,” Nall said. “I think it’s a huge disservice to call it anything other than ‘multi-modal.’ ”

Councilmember Pam Tallmadge said she wanted to make sure children who want to bike to school via Tilly Mill Road could do so safely, but disagreed with a 12-foot-wide, multi-use path. She suggested the possibility of protecting cyclists by installing planters on the side of the road, rather than just a painted stripe.

“‘Sharrows’ are just as dangerous … cars still run bikes off the road,” she said. “We need to come up with some medium ground where there is safety, but we are not taking citizens’ property with a 12-foot-wide path.”

Smith said 12 feet is the standard width for multi-use paths.

“If you go less than 10 feet it is not a ‘multi-use path,’ due to federal standards,” he said. “If it’s less than 10 feet, there is no center line for two-way access.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.