City plans changes for Monroe-Boulevard

Anya Lomsadze and Alex Opsahl

By Alex Opsahl and Anya Lomsadze

After 28 car accidents involving pedestrians or bikers, including the fatality of a Grady freshman, city officials are looking to make the Monroe-Boulevard corridor safer for non-drivers.

In February, Grady freshman Alexis Hyneman was fatally struck by a car as she crossed Monroe Drive at 10th Street while attempting to reach the BeltLine.

Remy Place, a friend of Hyneman’s and a Grady sophomore, is asking for the construction of a civilian overpass across Monroe to allow bikers and pedestrians to reach the BeltLine without walking directly across Monroe.

“The longer we wait, the more likely it is to happen again,” Place said.

In 2015, voters approved the Renew Atlanta bond program which allots $250 million to upgrade the city’s streets. The bond will fund improvements to the Monroe Drive-Boulevard corridor from Piedmont Circle to Woodward Avenue, which includes the intersection at Monroe Drive and 10th Street.

One of the most pressing issues the project will address is safety. In the past three years, there have been nearly 30 car accidents involving pedestrians or bikers alone along Monroe Drive and Boulevard.

“It all boils down to safety for everyone,” City Councilman Alex Wan said at a community meeting at Grady. “The complexity in this is the high school students who are using this area, and we have to be mindful of that, and heighten our awareness of the problem, and add a lot of energy behind finding a solution.”

The Atlanta City Council is working with the BeltLine to ensure the plans are feasible.

“If we’re going to build a bridge over [the Monroe Drive and 10th street intersection], it’s going to be $15 million dollars,” Wan said. “We’re going to need some help.”

The Monroe-Boulevard corridor is near other Atlanta Public Schools facilities, including Hope-Hill Elementary, the future Inman Middle relocation site at the old Howard High School building, and the athletic facilities of the former Walden Middle School, which are used by Grady.

In an effort to reduce traffic on the corridor, where traffic volumes range from 18,500 to 21,500 cars per day, Renew Atlanta is analyzing a “Complete Streets,” initiative, which supports new transportation options to reduce traffic.

“Historically, [Monroe and Boulevard] were designed with just a car in mind, but great streets are complete streets,” Regan Hammond, a transportation planner for Renew Atlanta, said. “I think of a road as a place for cars, but a street is a place for people.”

Creating bike lanes often comes with cutting down traffic lanes, a process known as road dieting. Atlanta is no stranger to road diets, as the city converted the third lane of 10th Street by Piedmont Park into a two way bike lane.

“I think a road diet would be most effective,” said Atlanta Bike Coalition member Mike Risher. “It creates a physical barrier to show those driving cars that this is a shared space.”

A potential change could be cutting one of Monroe’s four lanes and converting the middle of the three remaining lanes into a turn lane. Some Atlanta residents, however, worry this model will actually increase traffic.

“Squishing the city down will make us like New York City, but we don’t have their train system,’’ said Midtown commuter Erin Steele.

The Morningside-Lenox Park Association is concerned that curbing traffic off Monroe will increase residential traffic because transportation apps like Waze direct users onto residential streets to avoid traffic on large roads.

“We’re looking to have some traffic calming ideas be part of this plan, not just addressing Monroe but also all the neighborhoods,”said Marti Breen, the Morningside-Lenox Park Association communications director.

Renew Atlanta plans to release renderings of proposed improvements next spring and move directly to design and construction after presenting its ideas to the public.

“I urge people to stay vocal because the second you aren’t as vocal, the other side gets the advantage,” Wan said to community members. “The pressure that you put on the city will make this work.”