Work Begins on North McDonough 2-Way “Cycle Track” and Other Pedestrian Improvements


It’s been a long time since the city got word back in 2010 that it won an LCI grant to improve ped/bike facilities along North McDonough.  But that’s how it goes with Federal and State dollars.  Deputy Mayor Hugh Saxon was always very clear that it would take many years to work thru the red tape to get this project started.

But enduring all that red tape has paid off!  All and all, the city has managed to find fed and state money that will pay for a little of two-thirds of the total cost of the $5.5 million project.  No small feat.

But there’s no time to sit and gloat about our grant writing skills!  To work!

Work has just begun on transforming the old up-down speed zone into a more pedestrian and bike friendly avenue.

How friendly? The Decatur Extreme Makeover website states that improvements include “reducing North McDonough to 2 vehicle lanes, wider sidewalks, and a 2-way “cycle track” on the west side of the street, along with traditional streetscape improvements and on-street parking. The project will also feature “green infrastructure” improvements to improve storm water quality.”  (We’ve reported all this before, but they just summed it up so nicely.)

The project will also work to improve pedestrian accessibility and safety at the dreaded train track crossing. Additionally for the gasoline-addicted 🙂 “New traffic signals allowing protected left turns on all legs of the 2 crossings are to be installed as well.”

The city promises that the project will be noisy and inconvenient and will take between 12-18 months.  But heck if it won’t be a whole lot purdier when all is said and done!

39 thoughts on “Work Begins on North McDonough 2-Way “Cycle Track” and Other Pedestrian Improvements”

  1. Urgent message came out from DHS asking parents to drop-off and pick-up at parking lot off of Commerce, not in front of DHS, at least for the next few days. Stay tuned for instructions…

  2. I hope this work is being coordinated with the Calloway development. Would be a shame to have this installed just to see portions of it torn up later.

      1. When is the construction project set to begin in the front of the high school? Will this be during or after the city’s streetscape project?

  3. I would’ve expected that the traffic signals on College, Trinity and at the RR crossing would have been adjusted to accommodate the new traffic patterns BEFORE the new alignment was started. Based on the traffic snafu I saw around 5:30 this evening, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Also not sure why this was started on the same day as DHS curriculum night. Can’t wait to see what happens during the first home football game.

    I predict that this lane reduction, in addition to the recent changes on Commerce and Trinity, will result in less visits to downtown restaurants and businesses by south-siders. It will be a lot easier to drive to Kirkwood or Avondale Estates.

    1. When the 2nd/Hosea intersection is fully built out it’ll have ~7 additional dining options for folks south of the tracks.

    2. And, when your “prediction” turns out wrong, then what?
      You come out of the anonymous shadows and parade around in a sandwich board proclaiming (Grandpa Simpson-style) “I was right, except for all that I got wrong!” perhaps?

      1. Ah, I forgot to use the ironic font. People are getting so worked up by the Presidential Election, they believe everything they read.

        My point is that there has been a systematic reduction in travel lanes throughout the city as the population is increasing. This has been done without much consideration on how it will affect the real taxpayers of this city (owners of residential property), to the benefit of downtown businesses (who pay a minor percentage of taxes). Will this be considered the period when Decatur jumped the shark?

    3. What traffic signal adjustments are planned? I can think of several intersections that would benefit from left turn arrows (College and S. Candler, College and McDonough, Trinity and McDonough in the direction of DHS)

    1. Eliminating that lane traveling south over the tracks is a huge mistake. Traffic will be backed up to the square daily.

  4. The design posted above looks very nice, but I am more concerned about the traffic. Yesterday at around 5pm it took nearly 30 minutes to get from College Heights to the square. The intersection at McDonough and College/Howard was already very congested at certain times of the day and now with only two lanes for N. McDonough (and the new apartments at the Arlo and soon the old Callaway site) it will only get worse. Could someone please tell me if these traffic issues are being addressed? How I am to get from College Heights to downtown in less than half an hour? (please no snarky responses – this is really a problem for those of us south of the tracks trying to get downtown)

    1. Unfortunately this is what our city leadership has envisioned as improvement to transportation infrastructure. See the road diet on Church St. and lane elimination on Commerce at Clairemont as other examples of their vision. Unfortunately we have few in city leadership who actually commute through Decatur at rush hour and thus they remain out of touch with the issues we face on a daily basis. I agree it would be nice if we could all bike and walk to work but for most of us that simply is not a reality. Driving south to north is becoming increasingly difficult and this and other planned “improvements” will only make the drive more frustrating. I feel your pain.

    2. I think the city’s new standard protocol for addressing issues like traffic and parking complaints is to publish an article in an upcoming edition of the Decatur Focus telling residents they are wrong and that it’s not really a problem. (Sorry, couldn’t help it). I very much understand the frustration. I’m guessing your sentiments are largely shared with northside folks trying to get to or from FAVE along that route as well. The railroad tracks are a pain point for all modes of transportation, particularity as it relates to school logistics.

      If you think it’s bad now, Just wait until Atlanta starts the road diet on Dekalb Ave next year.

      1. Personally I think this project is a home run for COD and I would rather we focus on making the city more enjoyable while we’re here rather than obsess over how long it takes us to drive to and from. Stuff like this is the reason I moved here!

        1. This sort of ignores the daily realities of life for a lot of people. The city does not stop at the downtown commercial district. Most of it’s residents don’t live there, and the current arrangement of things like schools means many of them have to traverse across it regardless. I’m sure the city will win some more urban design accolades for this project. I’m just not sure that’ll matter to the people waiting through 6 light cycles trying to get across college to get their kid to Pre-K.

          1. Except that school configuration is political decision with a limited tenure whereas street infrastructure has a 75 year lifespan. If the frustration is largely rooted in a neighborhood-based school that draws from a city-wide population (FAVE), then the problem is not the streets. It’s that a school configuration decision was made with (in some folks’ view) insufficient consideration of the city’s transportation network at the time and related goals for the future — all of which were spelled out by citizens in the 2000 Strategic Plan and specifically detailed in the 2007 Transportation Plan, which both preceded FAVE.

            Any suggestion that this is just the commission forcing through their own agenda (not suggesting it’s your suggestion personally) is just silly. All the street reconfigurations currently in the works predate the terms of four of our five commissioners. The five of them today are implementing ideas that have been pushed and refined by residents for 16 years.

            Right now, we’ve had an abrupt change to the street with (as far as I know) no adjustments to the signals. That does suck, but it won’t be a permanent condition. That’s the beauty of a distributed traffic network. People can make different decisions and, as they do, equilibrium starts to come back. My suggestion, for whatever it’s worth, is to give it a couple weeks and see how it shakes out. And if you wanna get all up in the politics of it, a good place to start would be a) encouraging the city to push Dekalb county to do some shorter term adjustments to the McDonough signals to better manage the temporary set-up; and b) encourage the CSD Board to either return to a K-6 neighborhood-serving schools model or move 4/5 to a more centrally located, easier access location.

            1. Getting to and from DHS is a problem at some times of the day already and I really hope traffic patterns around the high school were taken into consideration. A lot has changed at DHS since this project was first conceived. The student population is growing every year and the school has had to expand. The upper lot is full of trailers and cannot be used for drop off and pick up any more. Howard between Trinity and Church has been closed due to construction of the Arlington and is not going to allow left turning traffic from Candler/Trinity when it reopens. DHS is the only high school so school configuration is not the problem.

              It has to be hurricane bad weather before I drive my kids to school, because it takes me 30+ minutes in morning rush hour to drive the mile from my house to DHS, but I do drive and pick up from their evening and night activities at DHS.

              1. The high school master plan currently being implemented moves all bus and car pick-up and drop-off to a new turn-around loop on Commerce Drive.

            2. Scott,
              I agree with you that the schools need to be reconfigured, however, that will not help the traffic problems now or even in the next year or two. I also agree with you that this is not a case of the CoD forcing through an agenda – I truly believe the CoD government care about and want to do what is best for the community. What I take issue with is that “people will make different decisions…”. How? What alternate routes are there (that are not already congested) to go over the tracks? Candler and Columbia are congested now and will only get more so. If you consider not driving a “different decision”, please remember that many people are already doing that, but walking or biking is not an option for everyone or for all circumstances.

              1. I’m not suggesting there’s some magic bullet alternative. I’m just saying that, given alternatives, people adapt. Some of our north/south traffic unaffiliated with the schools might choose Columbia or Candler or Commerce to Atlanta Ave. or Rocky Ford. Others, perhaps those with kids at DHS, might (if coming from the north) choose to drop their kids at the Starbucks parking court and have them walk two blocks south. Those coming from the south might choose to drop their kids at Ansley and McDonough, skipping the RR entirely, and have them walk two blocks north. I have no way to be certain how but I do think it’s a certainty that people will adapt and, in doing so, relieve some of the present congestion in front of DHS. Because there are options (not suggesting they’re ideal options, just workable ones) to do so. No high school kid every suffered by walking two blocks, even in the rain.

                Like I said, I’m not suggesting it doesn’t presently suck. I was at Trinity and McDonough at 5:30 on Thursday so I’m well aware that the rollout wasn’t a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. I just believe that these are temporary pains and that, as we move forward and get closer to achieving the goals of both the city and DHS, circumstances will improve.

                1. When I drive my kids to school I generally let them out on McDonough just south of College (as I have to sit through several light cycles it is easy to drop off there). But there is a crossing guard there and it isn’t dark at that time of day, which makes crossing safer there. At night I am going all the way to the school.

                  I used to take S. Candler and then go left on Howard after the tracks before it was closed off –which was quicker from where I live.

                  I hope the left turn lane on Trinity gets longer or the street reverts to two lanes going south for the block between Church and College.

                2. Your comments remind me of Andres Duany, who suggested government should plan for pedestrians and let the cars just figure things out.

                  “The problem with planning is that it has been overtaken by mathematical models… traffic, density, impact assessment, public costs etc. discarding common sense and empirical observation.” -Andres Duany

        2. Thanks Jeremy – if traffic congestion is such a home run why are the former mayor and current mayor concerned with traffic in Decatur supposedly being caused by overwhelming development outside Decatur?

          Perhaps decision making and planning within Decatur (lane closures and density via development) are the primary reasons for the issues being discussed.

          Queen Cersi – your Decatur Focus comment seems to suggest that information outlets may shape perception and opinion; who would have thought? You might enjoy two books: Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein and Pre-Suasion by Cialdini.

    3. It took me a preprosterous 30 minutes to get from the high school. I think my solution is to only bike and drive in downtown Decatur.

    4. I agree. It is a nightmare, and I’m quite certain folks who program traffic lights and travel through town during rush hour traffic were not part of the planning/implementation process. If they had been, it would not have taken me 12 light changes to go from Village Vets to the light at the tracks at Dekalb Industrial this morning at 8:00 a.m.. I fear for the safety of pedestrians (mostly students) and crossing guards in the mornings, because it seemed intense to me.

  5. Pretty drawings. Not so pretty reality. The consequence of prettifying McDonough by reducing it to two lanes was apparent last night: seriously ugly traffic! Apparently, Decatur needs to relearn this lesson after Church. And Ponce. Increasing living density and growing businesses while reducing every major artery into and out of the city is nonsense. The immediate impact of these changes is traffic congestion and increased traffic through the residential neighborhoods. The long term impact . . . pretty streets, empty businesses.

  6. As a Decatur resident and someone who frequently bikes, walks, and drives around Decatur, I definitely support street designs that encourage folks of all ages to walk and bike safely!

  7. The tie ups during rush hour on N. McDonough are pure insanity. Do we really know what we are creating for ourselves after this is all said and done?

  8. I’m wondering how many posters have participated in commission meetings when projects like this are discussed? Have any of you shared your concerns in that forum or reached out to commissioners if you couldn’t make it? How do those suggesting traffic isn’t considered by the city know that’s true?

    My experience with commission meetings is there isn’t usually many community members in attendance. Except for the really controversial topics, like the tree ordinance.

    1. And, how many have voted in City elections, which typically have a 20% turnout? Even the latest one, with contested races, produced a turnout of less than 30%.

    2. I voice concern in every single survey and open city hall. With two young children and a 45 min to 1 hour commute I don’t have an opportunity to attend many community meetings. The same is probably true for many two parent working households.

  9. It’s like people have never heard of school buses. You don’t HAVE to drive your precious baby door to door. Stay out of the construction mess and don’t contribute to the traffic. Stress free school commute for all.

    1. I am all for the bus and walking, but in CSD you have to live pretty far from the school to qualify for the bus. A mile is not far enough to qualify. And the busses don’t bring kids to and from nighttime extracurricular activities.

      And for the younger kids, sometimes the parents are rushing to work and have to drop off by car as they can’t get to work in time if they walk.

      1. I agree. If you are living less than one mile from the school you aren’t likely driving through the construction mess downtown to get to school and my comment doesn’t apply. But if you live on the north side and your kid goes to school on the south side, stick them on the bus. If you choose to drive your kid to school and through the mess downtown, you look silly complaining when you are ignoring a very simple, stress free solution.

  10. we should just get rid of the tracks, merge college and howard into one road, and expand dhs and renfroe into the freed-up space.

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