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First a Lane in the Street, Now a Signal?
An incredible milestone was realized last month when the City of Atlanta, Central Atlanta Progress, and PATH officially dedicated the first cycle tracks installed in downtown Atlanta. Over a hundred cyclists participated in the dedication ride on July 17th commemorating the first time cyclists have had a protected traveling environment anywhere near downtown.
The Peachtree Center Avenue cycle track between Edgewood Avenue and Peachtree Street allows cyclists to travel between Georgia State University, SunTrust Plaza, and scores of major employers without mixing with traffic. When the John Portman Boulevard cycle track is completed later this year, cyclists can travel along the Stone Mountain Trail from the Atlanta BeltLine, Freedom Park and surrounding neighborhoods to most downtown destinations totally separated from traffic.
For icing on the cake, PATH installed bicycle traffic signals for counter flow bike traffic on Peachtree Center Avenue. The street is one-way northbound so cyclists traveling southbound needed their own signal. Similar signals will be installed on the cycle track PATH is building on John Portman Boulevard.
The cycle track on Peachtree Center was funded by the City of Atlanta and Central Atlanta Progress. Your generous donations to PATH funded the bicycle traffic signals for the cycle track.
In addition to the Peachtree Center cycle track, the Tenth Street cycle track was extended from Charles Allen to Myrtle Street adjacent to Piedmont Park. A new signalized crossing was installed midway between Charles Allen and Myrtle Street to provide safe access from Midtown to the cycle track and the trails in Piedmont Park. The extension of the cycle track was completed by Midtown Alliance and the City of Atlanta. PATH partnered with the Children’s School to fund the signalized crossing of Tenth Street.
Additional cycle tracks are planned on Fifth Street into Georgia Tech and on Juniper Street between 14th and downtown. PATH is also installing a cycle track on Westview Drive between Atlanta University Center and the Atlanta Westside BeltLine Trail. The Westview cycle track is being built using a grant from REI.
Cycle tracks will never replace greenway trails as the most desirable facility we build. It has become increasingly difficult to find corridors for trails as we approach the heart of the city. Cycle tracks coupled with sidewalks for pedestrians will allow us to connect trails through town for all PATH users.
A very young PATH Foundation built the Chastain Park Jogging Trail around North Fulton Golf Course between 1994 and 1998. A traditional PATH trail was constructed along Lake Forrest and across the southern end of the golf course to intersect the existing sidewalk along Powers Ferry Road. Later, PATH returned to build the trail from Galloway School to Park Drive and along Powers Ferry to the Red Lot near the amphitheater.
A little known fact: when the first phase was built along Lake Forrest Drive, we were asked to name it ‘Jogging Trail’ because adjacent neighbors did not want to encourage bicycle riding on the trail. (They visualized packs of spandex-clad cyclists riding laps around the park.)
Since those early days, the Chastain Park Jogging Trail has become a cherished gathering place for the neighborhood and visitors from nearby communities. The trail is predominantly a walking and jogging venue with a few cyclists thrown in for good measure.
As the result of an extraordinary effort by the Chastain Park Conservancy and the City of Atlanta, the narrow sidewalk along Powers Ferry Road is being replaced with a PATH trail from the American Legion Post to the Chastain Tennis Center. PATH provided guidance during design and is overseeing construction of the project for the Conservancy. Construction began in May and will continue into 2016.
The project consists of setting a new curb line that narrows lanes on Powers Ferry Road thereby creating space for the ten foot wide trail and a narrow grass buffer. In addition to setting a new curb line, many large utility poles must be relocated to make way for the new trail. The utility pole relocation is adding six months to the project time line since Georgia Power, Comcast, and AT&T all must relocate lines after the poles are moved.
Thanks to Councilmember Yolanda Adrean for helping to obtain City financing for these improvements. Hats off to the Chastain Park Conservancy for raising money from nearby residents to complete the funding needs. These improvements will make a great trail even better!
It has been ten years since we launched an effort to close the eleven mile gap in the Silver Comet Trail between Rockmart and Cedartown. We had completed the trail from Smyrna to Rockmart and the nine mile segment from Cedartown to the Alabama state line utilizing the Seaboard Air Line Railroad abandoned corridor. CSX still operated trains between Rockmart and Cedartown so our task to complete the Silver Comet between those towns would be a tad more challenging. One of the most engaged advocates for completing the trail through Polk County was an attorney named Joe Anderson. Joe lead the Georgia Rails Into Trails Society (GRITS) in Cedartown and, more importantly, knew almost everyone in the county.
He was the perfect partner to have as I launched my new career as right-of-way acquisition specialist.
In our first strategy meeting, we decided we would make one last attempt to get CSX Transportation to suspend service to their one Cedartown customer and abandon the Rockmart-Cedartown line. We reasoned it was costing CSX more to maintain eleven miles of track that they were making from one customer in Cedartown. We spent two months corresponding with CSX and the CEO of the customer, assessing the likelihood that an abandonment was likely any time soon. Building the Comet on the abandoned rail bed would be quicker and much less expensive than any other option.
Two months later, we decided the railroad would be operating for a while (it still is), and we were anxious to get our trail finished, so we moved to plan B. Our plan B involved inventorying property owners adjacent to both sides of the rail line and assessing the number and familiarity of the owners. We reasoned that our best chance for assemblage would be adjacent to the railroad since any new development would shy away from the track. Joe brought tax maps with names and telephone numbers to our second major strategy meeting and we established our game plan.
There were 33 property owners on one side of the track and 40 on the other. Since CSX would never let us cross their track at-grade, any crossing from one side of the track to the other would have to be at existing road crossings. This meant we would have to assemble the corridor on one side of the railroad or the other between crossings. Joe knew some of the folks we had to approach and knew people who knew most of the remaining owners. Joe talked his way into a few appointments and we hit the back roads to sell the Silver Comet.
Our first visits were near Rockmart where the Comet leaves US 278 and joins the rail corridor. Joe and I were in oxford shirts and khakis, just two bow ties away from being vacuum cleaner salesmen. We pulled up to the trailer and reached behind the front porch refrigerator to push the bell. We were warmly
greeted by a middle-aged woman who escorted us to the living room, where her husband was seated. “I’ll just tell you now, I’m agin it,” he said. “ I don’t want my kids playing next to the goings-on on the trail.” Joe and I concluded we would have to move across the tracks and hope the reception was better. We
graciously ended the discussion after ten or fifteen minutes and drove across the tracks to a country farm house adjacent to a pasture full of cattle. An elderly woman invited us into the living room to join her brother and her husband.
Joe and I gave our spiel about the importance of having the trail connected and the prospects of higher land values if the trail went through. After our earlier encounter, we were expecting the worst. What a surprise! The husband told us a story of how his granddaughter had been driving to Rockmart two or three times a week to use the trail. He said ‘It seems to bring her joy and excitement. It must be pretty special.” He said he would donate the easement if we could figure out how to get his cattle across the trail without getting out of the pasture. I told him we could build a bridge over a cattle shoot that would also have room for his pickup to pass underneath. After visiting with his neighbors and convincing them to sell land for the trail, we signed them all up. We were on a roll!
As we proceeded across the county that summer, we encountered everything from crack houses to stately mansions. The people’s reaction to our proposal ranged from “if you ever show up here again, I’ll swear out a warrant,” to “finally I can get my wife out of the house to exercise,” and everything in-between. Our trek was obviously the topic of discussion on the internet. The naysayers poisoned the water in some cases and the proponents paved the way in others. It was an adventure every time we rang a doorbell but before a year had past we put the entire eleven miles together. It was an incredible experience I will always remember.
The last piece of the puzzle was a horse farm not too far from Cedartown. We had been advised the County would not condemn any property for the trail. No one knew that for sure except for Joe and me. The owners of the farm were luke warm about giving up twenty-five feet of their pasture. We had to have it to finish our mission. I had offered to build them a new fence and drain a beaver pond as a bonus to paying them more than fair market value for the land. They wanted to think about it and call me later. I said “If I have to turn this over to the county to acquire, they will only pay fair market value and the fence and beaver pond removal will go away.” They signed up the next day.
So the next time you are riding the Comet between Rockmart and Cedartown, you’ll better understand why it crosses back and forth across the tracks and has so many right-angle turns. You’ll know the story behind the little wooden bridge in mile 42. Hopefully it will bring you a little joy knowing the story of two old guys, totally out of their element, selling their passion to fulfill their dream. Joe and I are very proud of our stint as right-of-way guys for the Silver Comet Trail.
The City of Carrollton graciously agreed to allow PATH crews to close a busy highway for thirty days to facilitate construction of a tunnel under the road for the Carrollton GreenBelt. We closed Newnan Road on June 29th and immediately began excavating for the twelve feet wide by fifty-two feet long concrete tunnel that will soon serve as a safe, separated crossing for the trail.
We greatly appreciate the consideration from the City and the patience of the citizens and businesses along Newnan Road that were inconvenienced during construction. The tunnel would have cost more and taken much longer to build if we had been forced to keep the road open during construction. Keeping the road open would have necessitated building one half of the culvert at a time and costly traffic control. PATH crews reopened the road July 24th, a week ahead of schedule.
Now that the tunnel is built and the road is reopened, our crews are proceeding to build the trail from Old Newnan Road through the tunnel to the Christ Fellowship Church and Canterbury Drive. This phase of the GreenBelt should be completed in early October.
Friends of the GreenBelt have established a goal of completing the entire GreenBelt project by the end of 2016. When this phase opens, eleven miles will be completed leaving five miles to be constructed in 2016.
Construction drawings reached 50% last month for the conversion of the southbound lanes of the Tech Parkway into a cycle track and pedestrian walkway. Georgia Tech, the City of Atlanta, and PATH are working as a team to create a pedestrian/bicycle promenade from Northside Drive to North Avenue. PATH is also working with the City, Coca-Cola, and the World Congress Center to build a cycle track from North Avenue to Centennial Olympic Park. If all goes well, the project will be submitted for permitting by year end and be under construction during the Spring of 2016.
PATH400 trail will be constructed though I-285/GA 400 Interchange
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has agreed to include a section of the PATH 400 trail within the I-285/GA 400 interchange scheduled for construction next year. This will be one of a handful of trails nationwide built through a major interstate interchange. The one-mile long trail will connect Johnson Ferry Road to Peachtree Dunwoody Road with side paths to the west and north side of the interchange.
GDOT agreed to make provisions for the trail through the interchange without building it since gas tax money can only be used for construction of highways and bridges. PATH and the City of Sandy Springs pledged $1 million each to actually construct the trail. It will be designed into the interchange and built by whomever builds the overall interchange.
News that GDOT would facilitate trail development through the interchange has been a catalyst for additional trail planning in the area. Livable Buckhead, PATH, and local governments are pursuing a federal allocation to build PATH400 between Loridans Drive and Johnson Ferry Road. The Perimeter CID is planning a cycle track on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road between Johnson Ferry and Hammond Drive. The City of Sandy Springs is planning side paths and cycle tracks from the I-285/400 interchange into Sandy Springs. PATH and the Perimeter CID are developing trails between Cox Enterprises, Perimeter Mall, and Lake Hearn Drive adjacent to the State Farm complex. All of this will connect to the Atlanta Beltline via PATH400 south of the Lindbergh MARTA station.
Without the prospect of the trail connection through the interchange, many of these trails would have stalled during the planning stage. Based on GDOT’s willingness to include PATH400 through the interchange, they are all likely to advance to construction. Thanks to all of you who advocated for this connection and to GDOT for thinking and acting outside of the box.
DeKalb County, PATH, and CSX Railroad are negotiating an agreement that would allow PATH and the County to complete the missing segment of the Stone Mountain Trail between Glendale Road and Clarkston. The discussions are preliminary at press time but all parties are at the table attempting to reach an accord.
In 1992, The old Decatur to Stone Mountain trolley right-of-way was ‘discovered’ by the PATH Foundation founders during their search for a suitable trail corridor that would connect the Olympic venue in Atlanta to the cycle venue at Stone Mountain Park. This lovely, tree-lined corridor stretching from downtown Clarkston to Stone Mountain Village, had been deeded to DeKalb County by Georgia Power Company after being abandoned decades before. Needless to say it was just what the doctor ordered: a continuous, publicly owned corridor that was level and virtually free of obstacles.
The first foot of trail PATH ever poured was on the trolley corridor near the corner of Country Address, just east of Clarkston. A mile of trail was completed at this location and used as the ‘model mile’ to convince potential donors that trails were good and PATH was the real deal.
PATH went on to complete a majority of the trail between Freedom Park and Stone Mountain before the 1996 Olympics. One glaring exception was the half-mile segment west of Clarkston including the bridge over I-285. There were too many issues involved with crossing I-285 and encroaching onto railroad right-of-way for a young, inexperienced nonprofit to resolve in a timely fashion.
The recent negotiations were encouraged by the fact that DeKalb County condemned the edge of the CSX right-of-way for trail development late last year. Rather than continuing the court case, the parties have agreed to pursue a settlement that will allow a trail bridge across I-285 into Clarkston but would exit CSX right-of-way east of I-285. The PATH design team is altering plans to reflect terms of the agreement in hopes the project will move forward. Stay tuned.
The partnership between the Friends of the Greenbelt, the City of Carrollton, and PATH recently opened another two miles of the Carrollton Greenbelt near Sunset Hills Country Club. The new segment begins at the Hays Mill Trailhead and ends at Maple Street, just south of the University of West Georgia campus.
The highlight of the new trail is a 2000 foot-long boardwalk that allows trail users to glide along 8-12 feet above the vegetation in the marshy, natural area along Buffalo Creek. The trail parallels the Sunset Hills Golf Course before turning ninety degrees to parallel State Route 166 (The Carrollton Bypass). The project would not have been possible without extraordinary cooperation from both Sunset Hills Country Club and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Over ten miles of the proposed sixteen mile-long Greenbelt is open to the public. Three more segments of the trail will be constructed beginning this Spring. The partnership has a goal of completing the sixteen mile loop in a total of five years (by the end of 2016).
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has agreed to review a proposal presented by PATH and other bicycle and pedestrian advocates to make provisions for the PATH400 Trail through the new I-285/Georgia 400 interchange project. PATH met with GDOT and representatives from Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, the Federal Highway Administration, Livable Buckhead, and the Perimeter CID, twice in March to discuss altering the design of the interchange to accommodate trail connections to all four corners.
Mike Lobdell, manager of the project, promised his team would review the options suggested by the PATH design team and reconvene the group in about thirty days. Although GDOT is prohibited from building separated trails by state charter, they can make it easier for us to follow their construction with a trail. PATH has benefited from GDOT ‘prep work’ on numerous projects in the past. Assisting with the extension of PATH400 through this interchange would be taking collaboration to a whole new level. Thanks to all who wrote letters and signed petitions asking for GDOT assistance. There will be more to report later this spring.