A CRAZY IDEA AND A KIDNEY STONE

I am very proud to announce the dedication of a buffered bikeway along John Portman Boulevard that completes the connection between the Atlanta Beltline and Centennial Olympic Park (COP). I’ve aged more than the sixteen years it has taken to get this done.

In 2000 when we first introduced the crazy idea of converting travel lanes on downtown streets to buffered bikeways, it was too much to ask. Back then, the answer to anyone advocating for bicycle accessibility was to spray stripes on the streets and call it a done deal.

In 2000, we approached downtown planners with the idea of extending the Freedom Park Trail across downtown on Alexander Street (now Ivan Allen Boulevard) to Centennial Olympic Park(COP). After attending the Jones-Simpson-Alexander meetings for a year or so, I was encouraged to try my proposal one block south on Baker Street. After another eighteen months of meetings, the Baker Street idea was rebuffed and the proposal was pushed further south to Harris Street. (now John Portman Boulevard.). It was there I had to take a stand since Harris was the last street that connected to the park.

My idea was to remove two travel lanes from the street and build a ten foot wide, landscaped median and a ten foot wide trail adjacent to the existing curb. In my mind, Atlanta could afford to dedicate one street across downtown as a pedestrian and bicycle happy place, only allowing cars if they behaved.

Our proposal was not well received. The car was (and still is) king in the ATL, so trying to convince stakeholders to give up travel lanes, taxi stands, room for delivery trucks and busses, was a hard sell.

A few of the stakeholders indicated they might be willing to support the project if we could eliminate the landscape island and only remove one lane of traffic. Their offer sounded better than more stripes or total defeat, so my team re-designed the facility to squeeze into one lane. Ultimately, the city and all the property owners along John Portman partnered to not only install the buffered bikeway but to add new LED pedestrian-scale lighting, new sidewalks and landscaping all the way from Piedmont to COP.

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The Stone Mountain Cycle Track leaving Centennial Olympic Park.

The new and improved John Portman Boulevard is not the linear park we first envisioned, but it does seem calmer and more appealing for cyclists and pedestrians these days. Cars are behaving better with fewer and narrower lanes. Maybe some cars are finding other ways to cross town. Who knows, maybe a future generation will decide to add the tree and flower garden in the second lane. I’ll be retired and can come water the flowers!

On to the kidney stone. At some point while we were ‘meeting’ our way south from Alexander Street to Harris Street, Central Atlanta Progress and the City partnered to develop a cycle track on Peachtree Center Avenue. The intersection of their project and ours created the first ever (in the USA) cycle track intersection. We were charged with resolving the issue of cyclists waiting for a red light in one cycle track while blocking cyclists in the intersecting cycle track from proceeding through a green light.

We reached out to a Washington D.C. consulting group with European ties to solve the dilemma. Their solution: the kidney bean (or kidney stone as I call it because it sometimes hurts to pass it). The idea is to provide space for cyclists waiting at the red light that is clear of cyclists in the crossing cycle track who have a green light.

The kidney stone will grow on you with time (frightening thought). It must be respected by motorists and utilized by cyclists to be successful. Now that you understand its purpose, maybe you’ll help foster acceptance of the stone.

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Kidney stone at Peachtree Center Avenue and John C. Portman Boulevard.

I am anxious to acknowledge the folks that helped me keep this vision alive: Jeff Portman met with me at least twelve times to help morph the vision into a plan the stakeholders would accept; Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District helped secure funding from stakeholders to beautify the entire street; The City of Atlanta supported my effort even when many stakeholders did not; and my friend John Ahman offered advice and counsel when it appeared the project would fail. After sixteen years, three street moves, and an unexpected kidney stone in the road, the John Portman Boulevard cycle track is now open for business. Was it worth all the trouble?
I think so.