North Decatur Road Safety Audit Recommends Road Diet, But County Reps Say Funds are Limited

The Medlock Area Neighborhood Association website has an excellent, extensive summary of the North Decatur Road Safety Audit presentation last week.  Cutting to the chase, here are the audit’s official recommendations…

1) a complete street conversion (“road diet”) to reduce North Decatur Road from 4 lanes to 3, by creating a center turn lane and bike lanes. Study of this option suggested.
2) create a multi-use trail to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists
3) widen the street to create a “complete street boulevard” (which includes 2 traffic lanes and a center turn lane, dedicated bike lanes on each side, and dedicated pedestrian sidewalk on each side)

But of course, funds are limited…

…the County’s resources are limited for doing necessary improvements. For example, the County has ~2,000 miles of roads but, with a $120 million resurfacing shortfall, the budget only allowed for the resurfacing of 35 miles of roads. Patrece added that road maintenance is HOST based, so, the County splits available funds with its cities.

That said, neighborhood representatives seem encouraged by the County’s willingness to address and consider these issues and there are a number of less expensive work-arounds that are mentioned throughout the post that seem much more likely to become reality.

Map courtesy of MANA from the DeKalb 2014 Transportation Plan – which deserves it’s own separate post at some point!

32 thoughts on “North Decatur Road Safety Audit Recommends Road Diet, But County Reps Say Funds are Limited”

  1. I went to the presentation of the recommendations and I think this summary needs a bit of clarification. The three recommendations listed are three *different options* for improving the road’s safety and ability to handle the traffic load. For instance, they did not recommend to both convert the road to three lanes and then to widen it and make a boulevard. Those are two different options with the second requiring much more in terms of property condemnation and acquisition than the first option.

    My understanding of the presentation is that the first “complete street conversion” option would require no additional right-of-way and would involve converting the road to three lanes (one lane in each direction and a dedicated turn lane) and add bike lanes. The second option would be to acquire some additional right-of-way on both sides and add a multi-use pedestrian and cycling path that is separated from the roadway, and the third option – which would require the most expense – would be to widen the road to four lanes with crosswalks, and a center island to allow pedestrians somewhere to pause.

    I think it’s important to point out – at least this was encouraging to me – that the audit also recommended several near-term, lower-cost options that the county did seem able to pursue: installation of ADA ramps at the curbs where they are missing (many!), re-striping or construction (not sure this is correct term? ) of crosswalks that are deteriorating or missing at the major intersections (Medlock/Scott/N. Decatur as well as Superior and the Clairmont intersection), and possibly adding crosswalks at Wendan and Clairmont Circle (I think this is where) to allow pedestrians to cross from the side of N. Decatur with a sidewalk to the one without).

    Some other important points that I learned at the meeting:
    -This section of N. Decatur Road, when the subdivisions were developed, was two lanes with additional space on either side to allow residents to park in front of their homes. Increased traffic volumes in the ’70s prompted the county to decide to make it four lanes, albeit with no additional space. They put in a sidewalk on the north side (if I remember this from the meeting correctly?) and then just re-striped it to four lanes.
    -the section of N. Decatur that was studied now handles between 25,000 and 29,000 cars per day, depending on the traffic count cited, which is three times the amount of traffic it is designed to carry. (That’s not even taking into account the heavy construction equipment it’s been seeing recently).
    -Traffic studies done on other streets that have seen “complete street conversions” show that car traffic flow is actually improved after the conversion since cars that are turning are removed from the overall flow of traffic and improved walking/biking conditions encourage people making short trips to not use cars as much. These studies, I believe, were done on roads with traffic levels just below what we are looking at here (around 21,000 seems to be the upper limit) which is why this option – though it seems the easiest to implement needs more careful study.

    Sorry for the massive comment. Obviously this is a subject that I care a lot about.

  2. TopHat Cat,

    I understand that North Decatur Road, like many of our city’s connector roads, was once a two lane street. And I agree that the road needs improvements. My main concern is whether there was significant discussion regarding the additional 4 plus million people who’ve moved to metro Atlanta since the 70’s? Many of these people have to go through our communities to get to work, etc. I hope before lanes are removed there will be a comprehensive analysis regarding how we plan to manage the cars which will still travel these roads. The cars are not going to disappear. For instance, I am pleased with the way the Emory traffic circle functions, but I understand that the residents of Oxford Road and other surrounding streets are experiencing more traffic through their neighborhoods since it’s quite easy to rotate off the circle instead of continuing thru the circle to stay on North Decatur. The cars have not disappeared, they have simply gone elsewhere. Pedestrians are the priority, but all of these improvements will not yield the intended result if there is not a realist plan in place for our automobile infrastructure as well.

  3. To feed all of the Clifton Road mega-entities, a new road needs to come off of Clairmont, thru the Emory Clairmont campus, over their ravine and woods to funnel traffic to Clifton. 78 to North Druid Hills to Clairmont to the new road would handle a lot of the traffic that now feeds down North Decatur.

    Any idea to 2 lane North Decatur is absurd.

  4. if only there was a bus system to take people from let’s say the end of 78 to the emory area. we could reduce n.decatur to 2 lanes, making it much safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and local residents while still providing a way for the commuters to get to work.

    or we could value the commuter’s right to get to work in their one occupant car from their distant suburban homes the fastest way possible over the safety and quality of life of the locals.

    i’m being somewhat facetious, but i have very little concern for the poor otp-ers whose commute might get a little longer if we make a local road safer for everyone else. take scott to clairmont to n.dec if the stretch of n.dec between scott and clairmont is too backed up for your tastes. it might currently be the most convenient way, but there’s no law that says it has to remain that way.

    1. I don’t have concern for the commuters either, but I also don’t want them parked in front of my house twice a day!

      I say this as I look out my front door right now with a line of traffic two blocks long from scott Blvd , I leave my house at 6am to avoid the morning parking lot,

      carefull what you ask for, not only will you make life hard for them you will also get stuck in that mess and make life worse for those of us who actually live here.

      where do you people think this traffic is going to go ?

      I am avid cyclist , and I just find different routes to go to avoid N. Decatur, and I live on N. Decatur, It is what it is .

      I would like to see the side walks fixed and on both sides

      1. I am avid cyclist , and I just find different routes to go to avoid N. Decatur, and I live on N. Decatur, It is what it is .


        Indeed. It is easy to avoid N Decatur on a bike by going through the quiet streets of Medlock. There is no reason at all to put bike lanes on that road.

      2. but if things remain as they currently are, we have ourselves a four lane parking lot that is deadly for pedestrians. why not make it a two lane parking lot that is safer?

        i ride on medlock all the time. it’s nice and quiet and a good way to get to emory from where i live. what i’d like to be able to do is ride to med grill or seven hens for dinner without having to turn a mile straight shot into a 3 mile run around. n. dec is unsafe during both peak and off-peak hours. people drive like maniacs on it.

        all i’m saying is something needs to be done to make that road safer. the corridor is not designed to handle the kind of traffic it currently is. there are many other options to get to the emory area. there is nothing sacred about people going down that particular road. if making the road safer for everyone causes commuters, wherever they may be coming from, to spend a few more minutes in their cars or take a different route to work, i don’t have problem with that.

      1. I hope I’m not the only one confused by this comment…

        What does this have to do with traffic on North Decatur Road?

        And please identify the “bars” downtown?

          1. I get that logic doesn’t always follow in discussions of the causes and/or solutions to traffic.

            But it is a pet peeve when someone refers to “bars” in Decatur. Nowhere in the city’s code will you find the word “bar,” nor is there an ability to open any type of establishment that sells alcohol by the drink unless such a place is also a restaurant. It may seem like a silly distinction to make but “bars” has a negative connotation, thanks in part to anti-alcohol forces that used the term to great effect for years to limit our freedom to purchase a perfectly legal and tasty product.

            Other than that, snark away…

    2. “or we could value the commuter’s right to get to work in their one occupant car from their distant suburban homes the fastest way possible over the safety and quality of life of the locals”

      How many locals bought or rented on N Decatur before it was anything other than a heavily used thoroughfare? Almost none, if any. And the fact is that most of them spent a lot less on their home because of it. They made the trade-off of facing N Decatur to spend less (much less) on a house. In other words, they accepted the detriments of living on that road and reaped the benefits. Nothing was foisted on them.

      And why do you seem to be assuming that the traffic on N Decatur is a result of suburbanites as opposed to the many local doctors, nurses, patients, teachers, administrators, etc. who work at Emory, CDC, or the VA? It’s both. Is this all an “us against them” short of thing to make traffic awful for the middle income Stone Mountain residents so richer Decatur residents can speed to work in their cars? It’s not like Decaturites don’t drive to work in their cars — on the contrary, they do so in droves.

      1. my issue with it is not that it’s a heavily used thoroughfare. it’s that it’s dangerous. people have died, and more will if nothing is done. scott/ponce is a heavily used thoroughfare, as is n. druid. those streets were better designed for that. they don’t fit four lanes into a two lane corridor. they can handle the traffic in a safer manner. if n.dec can be turned into a six lane road with a 65 mph speed limit safely, that’s fine with me.

        1. Not trying to be insenstive, but this needs to be said. Yes, people have died. But, referring only to the pedestrian, was the primary cause the design of the road or pedestrian’s decision to try to cross the road during rush hour? While tragic, I don’t think the death alone is reason to drastically reconfigure this stretch of road without considering the side effects. This proposed road diet will undoubtedly shift a lot of traffic onto side streets and cause a large shift in traffic patterns on nearby roads, and these shifts may create situations which are much more dangerous than N. Decatur is today. Maybe I am missing something, but shouldn’t we encourage cars to use major thoroughfares instead of speeding through our neighborhoods where kids are walknig to/from school or waiting for the bus at 7:30 in the morning? Plus, if the road diet creates more traffic, drivers will just become more frustrated or impatient or enraged and start paying less attention and making poorer decisions, all of which will just make matters much worse.

          I personally would like to see the reversible lane option explored further. We could widen the lanes, maybe put sidewalks in on both sides (or at least widen/improve the existing sidewalk) and get motorists to their destinations more quickly than with a two lane road, all of which could make this stretch of the road safer.

          1. the problem as i see it with north decatur is that it’s used as a major thoroughfare without really being one. the lanes are too narrow, the cars go too fast, it’s ill-equipped to handle pedestrians or bikes (whether or not one believes they belong there), and it was not designed to handle the traffic volume that currently travels on it (see TopHat Cat’s comment at the top). “speeding through our neighborhoods” is exactly what’s going on here. and it’s already bad enough that when i drive home down clairmont, i cut through desmond/medlock.

            i don’t think anyone is advocating messing with n. dec without considering the side effects.

            and lest we forget, if nothing is done, as population increases, so will the traffic on that stretch of road. it will only get worse. we can keep making sure people are able to drive their cars to work as fast as possible by widening roads, building new ones, and otherwise making sure people never look for an alternative and 15 years from now we’ll be having this same discussion about desmond.

      2. Well said !
        My wife and I moved on to N. Decatur exactly 10 years ago last week for the very reasons you mention. We both very opposed to the idea of getting rid of lanes . Where do people think that volume of Cars are going to go . Do we really want more angry motorist’s cutting though the back of the neighborhood . close those lanes down and those of us who live on n Decatur are also going to be the ones cutting though the back side just to get home , Not interested !
        fix the sidewalks ,
        as far as making it safe for cycling, Im sorry there are just some roads that aren’t safe and this is one of them , I say this as a guy who puts more miles on a bike than in a car
        You make me sit in traffic to get home and then I have less time to ride my bike, then I will be really pissed !

        1. one option, which might require re-timing lights or adding turn lanes, is scott to clairmont. it’s not that much longer and those roads are more suited to higher traffic volumes. it might add a little time to people’s commute though, which seems to be something that’s very frowned upon.

          another option is mass transit, like the emory shuttle from north dekalb mall, but again, that would add time to people’s commute.

          1. The left turn from Clairmont to N Decatur already gets heavily backed up. if you shift a large portion of the N Decatur traffic to this turn, Clairmont and Scott will get completely gridlocked.

            the right way to solve the problem is to expand the road into a boulevard and build out the proposed MARTA line… but there is no money to do so.

            Emory and the CDC have caused this problem by building massive campuses in the middle of a residential area with no major arteries to access them. Emory doesn’t pay property taxes, but I think they should contribute capital (voluntarily) to the solution that their growth has caused.

            1. Why doesn’t Emory pay taxes? I understand why CDC isn’t because it’s federal and you can’t tax the federal government. But isn’t Emory private? Or is it exempt because of its “religious affiliation”? If so, that’s a joke. Emory may have a school of religion or something like that but it’s NOT a religious institution.

              1. I believe it’s because it’s Institutional. As I understand it, Agnes Scott doesn’t pay property taxes either. Happy to be corrected on this, however.

                1. Hmmm. You may be right. But given the amount of money that flows into and around major universities like Emory, not to mention the value of the land they are on, t doesn’t seem right to exempt them entirely from taxes. Meanwhile, an elderly retired couple intown may be struggling to pay their taxes to stay in their home.

                  1. I feel the same way about churches. I don’t understand the justification for exempting them from paying property taxes.

                    1. The justification is that, historically, churches attended to a variety of social service needs — feeding, clothing, sheltering, etc. — that, in their absence, would fall to municipal government, so it was an interdependent relationship. However, this may now need revisiting, as there seems to be a lot more churches that qualify for the “take” but fail to compensate with any quantifiable “give.” Of course, many still do. Among them, IMO, many found in Decatur.

                2. i heard savannah has similar “problems” with scad. on the beneficial side, they buy and fix up a lot of downtown properties, but the down side is they don’t pay taxes on those properties, greatly reducing the tax base.

            2. again, i’m not saying shift traffic elsewhere without taking the consequences into consideration and doing something about them. just about everything has some sort of negative consequences, that doesn’t mean we should never do anything.

    3. “or we could value the commuter’s right to get to work in their one occupant car from their distant suburban homes the fastest way possible over the safety and quality of life of the locals.

      This ship sailed long ago – just about the time that CDC opened and you had 3 major job centers right in the middle of residential communities without a single major road which was ever designed to handle the traffic. So, all of those OTP’ers are coming every single workday whether you like it or not (and whether or not you look down on them b/c they either can’t afford to live here or choose not to), and we have to make decisions accordingly. Of course we have to balance the wants and needs of local residents, but this situation is the furthest thing (or at least it should be) from us vs. them.

      1. it’s not about looking down on them, or us vs. them, but part of the problem here, and everywhere else in atlanta, is the millions of cars that make their way into town from the suburbs every morning. as the numbers grow, the only thing that seems to get done to alleviate the problem is to widen streets. and as soon as the street is widened, traffic is back to the same as more people drive on it. so we’re back to the same problem and the only acceptable solution is the same thing we did last time. and so on, and so on.

        how about we turn north decatur into a six lane road, with a turn lane in the middle, so that the emory/cdc complex can be better accessed? maybe that’s the way to go.

  5. The speed limit on this road is 35. This is a comfortable pace. Because lanes are so narrow and shoulders are nonexistent traffic gets squirrely above that speed. Speed limit and traffic signal enforcement would go a long way towards making this street viable for residents, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. After all, it is a residential street!

    The road configuration is not likely to be changed while a light rail extension along this right-of-way is under consideration.

  6. Let’s just leave it as is until this dilapidated road just completely crumbles for good (it’s only held together by duct tape now) forcing every car off of it, and then make it a nature trail. Or a dedicated turn lane would also be nice. Mainly because that would least affect residents who have not so large front yards to begin with.

    Great summary TopHat

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