Street of Reams

Lemme tell you something about roads: They involve a lot of specialists working at all levels of bureaucracy who don’t always communicate with each other. And when they don’t–which is often–common sense is usually the first casualty.

The biggest problem is that the DOT, along with all the private sector folks suckling at their financial teat, see three types of roads: locals, which dump into collectors, which dump into the arterials that handle the heavy, through traffic. Works well enough in the ‘burbs, I guess, but not so useful in a place like Decatur, where streets of many sizes and configurations weave and connect their way through a variety of historic contexts.

The degree to which this three-sizes-fits-all thinking can undermine the joyful complexity of an interconnected, traditional urban place is, for a geek like me who obsesses over such things, extensive. And it’s not just me. Over time, all kinds of communities have gotten sick and tired of poorly designed thoroughfares being rammed through the places they care about most, with little regard for what makes them work or what makes them special.

Outcries drove the DOT to begin rallying, at least in their press releases, around the flag of “Context Sensitive Design.” They’re still not very good at it (they’ve always been much better at responding to the needs of cars than to the needs of people or the demands of place), but it’s been a veer in the right direction nonetheless. And now you hear a lot of talk about Complete Streets, which will push them even further into the 21st century. So there’s hope.

But I digress. For now, I want to point out what looks like some good, old-fashioned, specialists-in-silos craziness. Please join me as we tour East Lake Drive, just south of the tracks, where I speculate — from a reading of the clues — about what’s going on.

East Lake, at least at that span, is a pretty standard, 30’ roadway that, more than likely, is designated a collector road. As a collector, it would typically need to be striped. So, when the striper comes around, he sees his contribution as fairly simple because the work order was established by someone who doesn’t care about context: Run a double-yellow line right down the middle. Which is a problem, because he should be consulting with the city on what their parking program will be.

The result is a 15 foot lane in each direction which, incidentally, is 3 feet wider than an interstate lane. That wouldn’t present a huge problem (other than rampant speeding) except, on this stretch of East Lake, the southbound lane has no on-street parking, while the northbound lane does.

The net effect is that this stretch of East Lake has a 15’ southbound lane and, subtracting out 7′ for on-street parking, an 8’ northbound lane. And if you see it in practice, you know that what that really means is that some people park over the curb to avoid being hit while drivers routinely cross into oncoming traffic to ensure the same thing. Check out the following image, showing the full spectrum of silliness: A car parked up on the planting strip, together with a car swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid sideswiping anyone. Add to that that the oncoming vehicle is a Marta bus and picture the potential carnage on that one!

This would have all been easily avoided had the individual specialists not been so rigidly wedded to their marching orders and, instead, simply talked to one another. If they had, they likely would have come up with something like this: Stripe off an 8’ parking lane, then split the remaining space into two 11” travel lanes. Like this:

Not a big deal, but one that could make a big difference. For one thing, if you think squeezing a moving car and a parked car into a width of 15 feet is a tight fit, try squeezing in a moving car and a parked car and a bike. Like, say, one on the way home from 5th Avenue.

So howzabout it, city officials? Can we get a good, old fashioned, common-sense retrofit going here? What do DMers think?

15 thoughts on “Street of Reams”

  1. i think it is an awesome idea that makes complete sense. i was just thinking what a pain it is to travel this section of east lake so you must have read my mind, scott! now–how do we make this happen?

  2. I’ve been screaming for this for some time. Of course, only screaming to myself as I drive up and down this stretch. It’s such an obvious, common sense solution to a problem that should have never existed.
    What concrete steps could I, as a concerned resident of this neighborhood, take to help see this happen? (Seriously. That’s not a rhetorical question).

  3. As we get older and stop making sense
    You won’t find her waiting long
    Stop making sense, stop making sense…stop making sense, making sense

  4. +1

    Also should be done on S. McDonough St- Agnes scott does not need a parking lane on east side of the street.

  5. I’d recommend parking on both sides and no lines, like Howard Street between College Avenue and Kirkwood.

    I can hear everybody now, “Oh, I hate that street. I never know if there’s enough room for two cars to pass. It makes me nervous, and I have to really slow down.”

    Victory! Everybody reduces speed and pays attention because they don’t have a lane they are “entitled to” and have to negotiate the road with most everyone coming their way.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Lee. The negotiated road is the safest and I don’t think East Lake has the traffic to argue that insurmountable back-ups or bottlenecks would occur. I have to admit, though, that I suggested the above as it is because it’s the more politically viable path. Not only would you get the width reducing benefits of on-street parking even when no parked cars are present (because it’s striped), you also wouldn’t get the motherload of push-back from Marta. East Lake is a Marta route at that point and, as best I can tell, Marta won’t run routes on negotiated streets.

      Your suggestion is the safest of all but it’s also just edgy enough to bring out opposition. I like the idea of baby steps first.

  6. Start the clock: How long from today, 6.27.11, will this vision be a reality?

    Excellent post.

  7. Do any of you live on E Lake? First, before we start over thinking a broad “solution”, people need to slow down! I am starting to challenge people that want to speed down E Lake when I back out of my driveway. DPD needs to start ticketing heavier on this stretch in the am and pm rush hour times. That can fund your painting project.

    For residents on this stretch, it’s our extra parking. I rarely use it but, others rely on it for coordinating times leaving for work and visitors. Those of you that live on side streets probably have the same thing but I bet don’t drive nearly as fast through your own hood. So solutions?…from one geek to another geek…let’s slow down people first, fix the damn manhole mound field, and then talk about stripes.

  8. Scott, by reading your post above I can only assume that Candler St. from College to Hosea Williams is an ‘arterial’ street. And if you want a real picture of speeders, come sit on my front porch sometime. If you think about this stretch of Candler, it’s a psychological battleground for hurried drivers. Many commuters from south Dekalb take Candler, SR 155, as a means to avoid the nightmare that is I285. So, they haul arse northward for miles and miles down a 4-lane Candler Road. Then between Memorial and Hosea it drops down to 2 lanes. By Hosea it opens back up to 3 lanes, with 2 southbound and 1 northbound. Then by Shoal Creek we’re back down to 2 lanes.

    For southbound drivers that 3-lane stretch acts as a mountain passing lane with faster drivers dropping into the right lane to gain a 2-3 car advantage, all in a span that’s maybe one tenth of a mile. I believe the DOT would say the intention of that right lane was to permit drivers to turn onto Pharr without impeding traffic. Instead, I’ve witnessed dozens upon dozens of wrecks because it creates a speedracer mentality with the left-lane driver not wanting to be overtaken by the speeder on his or her right.

    Furthermore, with the bridge rebuild creating currently a work zone near Shoal Creek, the speed limit has dropped to 25 MPH. When I spoke with the Decatur PD about addressing speeders in that area, I was informed police department wanted to do so but was awaiting final word from the DOT that all the necessary signage was in place before they could start issuing tickets for the newly posted speed. Ah, the well-oiled gears of our government.

    What would be some solutions for that mountain passing lane? Perhaps a concrete structure that creates a division near the top of the hill near Pharr so that southbound drivers can’t wait until the last dangerous moment to return the left lane? Yet, eastbound turners onto Pharr still have safe passage.

    Truth be told law enforcement and MARTA buses are some of the biggest offenders of habitually ignoring posted speed limits in both directions.

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