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GDOT set to strip ‘suicide lanes’ from part of Memorial Drive

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But where are the much-needed bike lanes?

A photo of how Construction bustles near Memorial Drive’s intersection with the forthcoming Eastside Trail extension.
The oft-congested corridor is in for an update that could quell some traffic concerns.
Jonathan Phillips, Curbed Atlanta

It might not be as cracked and dangerous as neighboring DeKalb Avenue, but the Memorial Drive corridor running between Fulton and DeKalb counties is in dire need of safety improvements.

This month, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to reimagine a roughly 4-mile stretch of Memorial Drive—between Pearl Street and Candler Road—in an effort to curb accidents and increase traffic flow.

The first part of the two-phase project entails re-striping part of Memorial Drive in a way that removes the reversible lanes—often called “suicide lanes”—bisecting the popular roadway.

“The reversible lanes provided commuters with added mobility, but increased traffic, speeds, and crashes compelled GDOT, city, and county transportation partners to review ways to improve driver and pedestrian safety along the corridor,” says a GDOT press release.

Phase 2 calls for the whole 4-mile leg to be resurfaced.

This view shows the current lane allignment, including the reversible lane, near The Leonard (left) and the newer George Apartments.
Jonathan Phillips, Curbed Atlanta

Once work kicks off this month, construction crews will:

  • Lower manholes in the corridor;
  • Pave over the relocated manholes and existing lane striping;
  • Cease operation of the reversible lane system;
  • Re-stripe the corridor for the new lane configuration with new, brighter striping and direction arrows to assist drivers with the transition; and
  • Regional Traffic Operations Program (RTOP) crews will work to ensure traffic signals align with new configuration.

Officials say this work will prompt nightime and weekend lane closures, so the project shouldn’t disrupt normally hellish rush-hour traffic too much.

The new lane configuration will be used for a couple of weeks to allow motorists to adapt before the second phase of construction launches.

The repaving of the corridor will commence once “overnight temperatures are consistently at or above 45 degrees,” according to the GDOT release.

“Motorists are advised to expect delays, exercise caution, and reduce their speed while traveling on Memorial Drive, as there will be changes to traffic patterns,” the release says. “The tentatively scheduled completion date is June.”

GDOT

At first blush, this impeding update might seem like a saving grace for people concerned about the dangers posed by the suicide lanes, but what exactly will replace them is not totally clear.

A previous GDOT presentation shows plans to convert reversible lanes into two-way turn lanes and inject new turn lanes where roads currently feature two lanes running in each direction.

The creation of new crosswalks is also on the docket.

That said, it’s apparent these transportation infrastructure upgrades have nothing to do with the Renew Atlanta or TSPLOST programs approved by Atlanta voters a few years ago, which means it’s unlikely what GDOT produces will represent a “complete streets” project.

Greg Giuffrida, Memorial Drive Corridor executive for Central Atlanta Progress, told Curbed Atlanta that bike lanes aren’t planned for this stretch of Memorial Drive because of the “limited right-of-way” for the entire corridor.

“This decision was made jointly over the last few years with detailed input from the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, the city’s previous chief bicycle officer [Becky Katz], GDOT, and neighborhood leaders,” he said. “We are aggressively advocating for an alternative bike network running parallel to Memorial Drive using the following routes, from west to east: Woodward Avenue, Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Gaskill Street, Fulton Terrace, Mauldin Street, Arkwright Place/Woodbine Avenue (future Trolley Trail, Hosea Williams, Oakview, and Alston.”

For the time being, non-drivers can continue to pray for bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

Update: A GDOT spokesperson sent Curbed Atlanta the following statement:

“This project is funded through GDOT’s maintenance program funding.

“The main concept of the project is to remove the reversible lane system and replace it with a two-way turn lane, and at intersections, dedicated left-turn lanes (some areas have a dedicated right turn lane where space allows).

“Striping for bike lanes would require widening of the system since the road can only accommodate three travel lanes at its current width. This was a coordination between City of Atlanta, community representatives, and GDOT as part of the Imagine Memorial Corridor effort. I understand, but can not speak to, that the local community is seeking alternate bike accommodations that run parallel to this stretch.”

This story was updated on March 1, 2019 to include remarks from a GDOT officials and Greg Giuffrida, Memorial Drive Corridor executive for Central Atlanta Progress.