March 15, 2004

AIEV unveils bold plans for Emory Village

By Michael Terrazas

At a sometimes contentious meeting March 2 in 208 White Hall, the Alliance to Improve Emory Village (AIEV) unveiled its plans for transforming the—according to many—underutilized commercial center at one of the University’s most visible entry points.

Several years in the making, the plan calls first for major changes to roads leading into the five-pointed intersection of Dowman Drive and Oxford and N. Decatur roads, as well as to the intersection itself. AIEV’s plan involves a “road diet” on N. Decatur—meaning one lane in each direction with a center turn lane—between Clairmont and Lullwater roads, redirecting N. Oxford as it enters the intersection, and replacing traffic signals at the intersection itself with a roundabout.

The roundabout idea became popular at a community meeting AIEV held in January 2002, when Australian traffic engineer Michael Wallwork, an expert on roundabouts, described the signal-less traffic device and how he thought it could work in Emory Village. AIEV and DeKalb County first sought to study the possibility by simulating both the road diet and the roundabout using temporary measures such as pylons and street restriping.

But this idea never came to fruition, and instead AIEV turned to URS Corp., a traffic-engineering and consulting firm, to gather data on traffic patterns and feed them into a sophisticated computer model. That was earlier this year, and at the March 2 meeting AIEV Presi-dent Stuart Meddin shared the results.

“These results,” Meddin said, “confirm that our vision for a more accessible, safe and economically viable village can become a reality.”

The model showed that a road diet and roundabout made no significant changes to travel times and queue lengths at the several intersections along N. Decatur from Briarcliff to Clairmont roads—except at the village intersection, where the roundabout resulted in significant improvements.

Of course, traffic improvements are not all AIEV has in mind for the village; the group envisions a transformed, mixed-use zone incorporating commercial, retail and residential ventures, characterized by streetfront seating for restaurants, red-bricked pedestrian crosswalks, off-street parking and other amenities. However, after extensive consultation with possible developers, AIEV concluded none of that would be possible without first addressing the village’s traffic and pedestrian problems.
But are they problems? Not everyone who attended the meeting was sure.

“I walk around that area every day, and I’ve never had a problem,” said area resident John Pappas, who distributed flyers before the meeting protesting AIEV’s plans. “The last thing we need here is more apartments and condos.”

Pappas was not the only audience member to vocally oppose the proposed redevelopment. But AIEV—a nonprofit organization made up of representatives from village businesses, Druid Hills residents and Emory officials—has held several public meetings since its inception in 1999, and this latest forum was the first marked by such a degree of antagonism.

As for Emory, it long has held that the intersection is unsafe for pedestrians. And though people like Jen Fabrick, director of campus planning and an AIEV board member, were skeptical that a traffic device with no signals and at which no car is absolutely required to stop could handle the volume of vehicles passing through the village every day, they seem satisfied with the computer model’s results.

“We were pleasantly surprised when we saw the modeling,” Fabrick said. “Granted this modeling was done with current traffic counts, and we don’t know what the future portends, but we believe this plan improves safety at the Emory Village intersection.”

DeKalb County seems to be satisfied with AIEV’s work. When the Atlanta Regional Commission last May made the renovation of Emory Village eligible for some $2.2 million in design and construction funding under its Livable Centers Initiative, the county agreed to provide the required 20 percent matching funds. The money was split into two grants: $192,000 in fiscal year 2004 to go toward planning and design, and another $2 million in FY2005 for implementation. Which means, when Emory students return to campus in fall 2005, they could see a very different vista upon exiting the Haygood-Hopkins Gate.

For more information on AIEV’s plans, visit