How to Strengthen the Athens Complete Streets Policy

1. Apply Complete Streets to all projects.  Despite well-stated goals, the Athens Complete Streets Policy only applies in limited situations—all new construction and reconstruction projects of local roadways, excluding resurfacing activities. This narrow scope restricts Complete Streets to expensive, infrequent projects.  It also prevents Athens-Clarke County from implementing impactful (and inexpensive) small-scale enhancements, such as increased signage and improved signal timing, that can improve crosswalks, intersections, or entire corridors.  Expanding the scope of the Complete Streets Policy to all projects gives ACC staff the flexibility to meet community goals without expanding the budget.*  As the Mayor and Commission are fond of saying, a Complete Street Policy that applies to all projects gets the most bang for the buck.

We are already seeing the Complete Streets Policy’s limitations have a negative impact on our transportation system.  The remainder of Chase Street is scheduled for repaving in the spring; with the section between Broad and Prince already complete .  The repaving will literally turn Chase St. into a blank slate, which we could reconfigure to reflect community preferences.  However, since the Complete Street Policy specifically excludes “resurfacing activities” staff cannot look at changes on most of Chase.  According to the policy, they cannot examine the potential of new striping, new crosswalks, or even new street signs.  Even though Chase is on the bike master plan, even though it is home to Chase St Elementary School, ACC staff cannot use Complete Streets to introduce positive change.

Another policy, the so-called “Road Diet” policy*, does allow consideration of improvements on one small section of Chase, but ACC can only look at the impact on motor vehicles.  Under this policy, staff cannot consider the health, safety, and welfare of other users.  Bike lanes may be included on that small segment of Chase, but this is not a bike improvement project. BikeAthens supports all bike lanes, especially on the Chase segment frequently used by mountain bikers.  Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the way disjointed policies result in disjointed, unconnected infrastructure.

If the Complete Streets Policy applied to resurfacing, staff could look at the entire corridor.  They could balance the needs of all people using the street to ensure Chase safely, efficiently serves all Athenians.  Now, we have talked at length about Chase, these issues apply equally across Clarke County.  New road construction and reconstructions are rare—repavings and other projects are not.  They often provide the best opportunity to quickly and cost-effectively bestow corridor-wide benefits.  For these reasons, the Mayor and Commission should revise the Complete Streets Policy and apply it to all projects.


*A Strengthened Complete Streets Policy supports 6 of the 8 ACC FY16 Goals and Objectives.

**Road Diet is a misnomer.  Projects that more efficiently use public-right of way do not take anything away from motor vehicles, and most often increase the streets capacity to move people.  As bike lanes are vehicle lanes, these projects can also add lanes to the right of way.


2. Adopt Performance Measures.  Once the Complete Streets Policy applies to all projects, how do we ensure our aspirations become reality? One of the best things Athens can do is adopt Complete Streets performance measures and integrate them into the Annual Budget.  Performance measures give the community, and the Unified Government, benchmarks to evaluate progress, select projects, and review past successes.

There’s an old saying, “What gets counted, gets done.” Other communities with strong complete street policies—communities that often show up in the same best-of rankings as Athens—have adopted Complete Streets performance measures.  Performance measures can be simple and adjusted to suit Athens unique needs.  BikeAthens Policy Committee is reviewing potential Performance Measures, but this list is a good starting point for discussion:

  • Total miles of new, retrofitted, or rehabilitated bike lanes, bike routes, and shared use pathways
  • Bicycle, Pedestrian, and transit Level of Service
  • Total miles of pedestrian accommodation added
  • Percentage of transit stops accessible via sidewalks and bicycle facilities
  • Crosswalk and intersection improvements
  • number of new curb ramps and ADA accommodations
  • Rate of children walking or bicycling to school

Once we have the general measures, we can select the amount of each we want to accomplish during the fiscal year. TP & W staff tracks completed projects—but officially adopting Complete Streets performance measures allows all of us to more fully participate in the visioning of the future of our transportation system. How many crosswalk improvements do we want? How many new, retrofitted, or rehabbed bike lanes? Should we set more ambitious yearly targets? What should we prioritize? We cannot answer these questions until the Mayor and Commission officially adopt performance measures.

Transportation & Public Works already includes performance measures in the budgetary process.  But at the moment, the measures included in the budget only refer to motor vehicle improvements:











T & PW staff are certainly working to improve the transportation system for people who walk, bike and bus, but without performance measures it is difficult to know the type of projects they are pursuing and how many they plan to accomplish in a financial year.

In addition to providing a roadmap for future improvements, performance measures also create a stronger tie between the budget and ACC’s adopted budgetary goals and objectives.  While the T & PW section of the FY ’16 budget already allocates money to replace out-dated street signing, it is unclear that allocation includes bicycle signing. The T & PW budget includes money for new-striping, but it is unclear if that includes an allocation of bike lanes and “sharrows,” where appropriate.  Integrating performance measures into the Complete Streets Policy and budget ensures these critical projects are not afterthoughts that can be implemented only with budget leftovers.

Ultimately, the current Complete Street Policy is too narrowly drafted.  Its limited scope limits the opportunities to improve Athens streets. For Athens to meet its goal of providing “infrastructure that is supportive of sustainable growth, is environmentally sound, and is fiscally sound,” it must give staff more flexibility to undertake multi-modal improvement projects.  The Mayor and Commission should strengthen the Complete Streets Policy by 1) ensuring it applies to all projects and 2) adopting Complete Streets Performance measures.


To further the discussion, we are reprinting comments made in favor of Complete Streets at Tuesday’s Mayor and Commission meeting.

From Clint McCrory:

Athens’ Complete Streets policy needs to be revised and strengthened. In practice it is limited in scope, and it includes exceptions that undermine its effectiveness.

I was surprised to learn recently that the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets policy is stronger and much more comprehensive than ours!

The DOT Design Policy Manual states: “It is the policy of the Georgia Department of Transportation to routinely incorporate bicycle, pedestrian, and transit accommodations into transportation infrastructure projects as a means for improving mobility, access, and safety for the traveling public.”

Athens’ general Complete Streets policy echoes this goal. Unfortunately, the restrictions this Commission has placed on implementation of our policy have resulted in a piecemeal approach to transportation planning.

For example, our Complete Streets policy applies only to new construction or road widening projects, and not to resurfacing projects.

In contrast, the Georgia DOT manual states: “While it is not the intent of maintenance or resurfacing, restoration, and rehabilitation projects to expand existing facilities, opportunities to provide or enhance safety for pedestrians and bicyclists should be considered during the programming phase of these projects.”

Considering re-striping when a road is resurfaced should be an important tool to create a diverse, integrated transportation network.

But when a road is resurfaced, the only design modification that is considered under Athens-Clarke County policy is 4- to 3-lane conversion. And the warrants for 4- to 3-lane conversion refer to automobile traffic (vehicular usage and crash rates); bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users are not part of the picture.

Athens should be a model city for implementation of the Georgia DOT Complete Streets policy. Let’s get to work on that!”

From Aaron Redman:

“Dear Mayor and Commission,

My name is Aaron Redman and I am a resident of 1055 Baxter St. in Commission District 10.  I first just want to say thanks to Commissioner Hamby as he has been very receptive to my inquiries and concerns involving transportation in general and complete streets issues in particular.  That is what I would like to speak in regards to tonight.  While I am pleased that a Complete Streets policy was adopted in 2012, there are several issues within the policy that hinder it from achieving its stated mission of promoting safe and convenient access and travel for all users.  

First, the current Complete Streets Policy only applies to new road construction and reconstruction, but not repaving.  Many more streets would be improved with bike lanes and pedestrian accommodations if ACC would apply CS to repaving rather than only when a road is totally dismantled to bare soil and rebuilt. Other cities in the region who also have adopted similar CS policies, such as Chattanooga, TN include complete streets during repaving as it represents a great opportunity to improve transportation options for all users at minimal cost.

Furthermore, performance measures need to be added to the policy so that staff have tangible goals to work towards regarding CS.  For example, Chattanooga details the following:

  • Total miles of bike lanes, bike routes, and shared use pathways
  • Total miles of pedestrian accommodation added
  • Percentage of transit stops accessible via sidewalks and bicycle facilities
  • Rate of children walking or bicycling to school

The ACC CS policy contains no such benchmarks and without them, how can you gauge the success of CS, or even tell if the policy is effective in the first place?  

In closing, applying CS to repaving and adding performance measures would go a long way to the goal of ensuring the safety and convenience of all users of the ACC transportation system.