Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


June 10, 2002

Emory Village plans call for simulated traffic changes

By Michael Terrazas

At a public meeting held May 30 in White Hall, the Alliance to Improve Emory Village (AIEV) unveiled its recommendations for making life more pleasant around a certain perilous intersection adjacent to the University, and now the various constituencies will begin exploring how to bring those plans to fruition.

Most germane to Emory’s interests is the conclusion that the best way to deal with traffic congestion and pedestrian safety in Emory Village is to combine alterations of N. Decatur Road with a traffic “roundabout” in the main intersection. It’s a plan that is being met with justifiable skepticism from most parties involved, and that’s why the next step will be to design a pilot project that will simulate the changes without actually breaking out the mortar and asphalt.

“I think everybody is skeptical,” said Jennifer Fabrick, director of Campus Planning and an AIEV board member. “I just don’t know; there’s no model to look at. So the most astute thing right now is to go ahead and test it and keep an open mind.”

What would be tested is a “road diet” on N. Decatur between Lullwater and Clifton roads, which essentially would reduce N. Decatur from four lanes to three—one thru-lane in each direction with an intermittent turn lane—with bicycle lanes on both sides and widened sidewalks. The plan also would restrict left turns from N. Oxford, reducing the main intersection from five points to four and allowing the traffic light to be programmed with the conventional two cycles of a four-way intersection.

If that test is successful, the plan is to then simulate the roundabout in the intersection, which would eliminate the traffic light altogether and rely simply on the roundabout itself to slow traffic and allow for pedestrian crossing.

AIEV’s final plan addresses areas other than traffic; it calls for tens of thousands of square feet of new retail space, 150–170 new residential units, removal of the angled on-street parking in front of village shops, and the construction of new, off-street parking facilities. And Peter Drey of Peter Drey & Co., the urban design consulting firm hired by AIEV, said the commercial/residential recommendations could (and should) be implemented independently of the traffic improvements.

But everyone recognizes that the biggest problem in attracting consumers—to say nothing of possible residents—to Emory Village is the long lines of cars queued up on N. Decatur, waiting for the light to change.

“In order to attain this safe, economically viable, mixed-use community in the village, we need to make the intersection a safer place to walk across,” said Davis Fox, AIEV chair. “The county has talked about a road diet along N. Decatur for some time; we have embraced that, and we think it will help create a kind of pedestrian environment in the village—the same pedestrian environment the University is trying to create on campus.”

The problem is that the extremely high volume of traffic through Emory Village (roughly 21,000 cars pass through on a typical weekday during the academic year) makes it uncertain whether a three-lane road diet and a roundabout would work. According to traffic engineers consulted on the project, the traffic volume in the village is at the limit of what those alternatives could handle.

“We’re concerned about that,” Drey admitted. “But the gist of it is that we’re at the upper end [of the limits], which makes us apprehensive, but we are within the doable range, so that makes us confident—and the prudent thing to do is to test it.”

Even a test, however, will not happen immediately. First a plan would have to be devised outlining exactly what road alterations would be made, identifying which roads in the vicinity are likely to be affected and where traffic counts would need to be done. Then there’s the matter of funding.

“We haven’t worked out all the funding issues,” Fox said, “but we don’t think they’re going to be insurmountable. The county has talked about this in past.”

Which touches on the final—and most important—consideration: What will DeKalb County approve? In order to set all AIEV’s plans in motion, the county not only would have to authorize the work to roads and intersections, it also would have to rezone nearly the entire village. Most of Emory Village currently is zoned Commercial-1, which permits nearly any type of retail activity but prohibits residential uses. Once those hurdles are out of the way, chances are greater that developers will see the economic opportunities Emory Village provides.

“We believe that if we can put in the public infrastructure in the streets—the sidewalks, the road diet, street trees, new streetlights—and if we can establish the kind of zoning that would permit these uses, then we believe developers would take over,” said Fox, who works in real estate development and is a Druid Hills resident.

Fox, Fabrick and Drey all said beginning a test this summer would be ideal, but none of the three considered it a realistic goal. Restriping N. Decatur Road during the school year could be a traffic nightmare, and Fabrick said she would not like to see the testing begin around the winter holidays or in conjunction with the opening of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, so it could be next summer before drivers—and pedestrians—in Emory Village see any changes.