Athens city officials are hoping to make East State Street safer for walkers and cyclists by narrowing lanes and adding bike lanes and sidewalks as part of upcoming improvements.
The improvements, which will also add signal, paving and traffic improvements to East State Street near the U.S. 33 interchange, are projected to cost $6.1 million, according to a previous Post report.
Athens City Planner Paul Logue said the total street will be the same width from curb to curb, but lanes will be narrower due to the addition of bike lanes. Logue said this would help increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
“A lot of studies out there have shown that narrower lanes will make drivers slow down,” Logue said.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said speed has been an issue on East State Street.
“East State Street traffic tends to exceed the speed limit,” Patterson said. “People tend to exceed the speed limit by five to ten miles per hour. The narrowing of lanes adds a traffic calming effect to any street.”
Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said the current design reflects outdated infrastructure.
“As it was designed in the 60s, it widened the street to accommodate more cars traveling on it,” Knisley said.
Patterson said Athens has quietly narrowed lanes on roads in the past, including on Richland Avenue, West Union Street and Columbus Road. He added that the East State Street improvements would make the street a “complete street,” allowing greater access for all modes of transportation.
“As we knew we were going to be improving East State Street, which desperately needed it, we also realized that, in terms of accessibility on East State Street, there's no sidewalk along there,” Patterson said. “This falls right in line with our efforts to make the City of Athens more accessible for all modes of transportation.”
Some Athens residents have criticized the project, saying it caters to a small group of commuters. In a previous Post report, Athens resident Abe Alassaf, citing a study that found cyclists make up only 1 percent of traffic but 2 percent of accidents, said council members weren’t listening to citizens on the issue.
“This project is catering to a minority of bikers and will hinder traffic. It’s a major safety concern,” Alassaf said. “It seems like this city council just imposes their agenda on the rest of us and that they have already made up their mind on the issue.”
At the time, Athens City Engineer and Public Works Director Andy Stone addressed Alassaf’s concerns.
“We are trying to support higher volumes as traffic on East State has been increasing over the years and make it safer for everyone,” Stone said.
Construction on the projected is expected to begin in fall of 2017.