Members of the crowd voiced sharply divided opinions even before they packed into a meeting room at the Shepherd Center to look over and formally record their feelings about a state plan to remake Peachtree Road and to include lanes for bicycles along part of the busy street.
“We love bike lanes,” someone in the crowd shouted.
“Yes, bike lanes somewhere else,” another crowd member shouted back.
And so it went, as about 400 residents gathered at the Shepherd Center on Oct. 29 to voice their opinions on the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plan to redesign Peachtree’s lanes when those lanes are repainted.
GDOT officials say the project is intended to make travel on Peachtree safer. A handout at the Oct. 29 public meeting reported that more than 800 collisions occurred from 2009 to 2013 in the area being considered for restriping. During that period, there also were 11 crashes involving bicyclist and 42 involving pedestrians, the handout said.
GDOT officials propose relining the six-lane road to create a central left turn lane from Deering to Pharr roads. From Deering north to Peachtree Battle Avenue, the road would contain the left turn lane, bike lanes and four through lanes, two northbound and two southbound. From Peachtree Battle to Pharr, the road would contain the left turn land and five through lanes, two northbound and three southbound. The section from Peachtree Battle to Pharr would not include bike lanes.
Some of the residents at the meeting said they thought the turn lanes could be a good change, but they questioned the addition of bike lanes.
Buckhead resident Deborah Baxter, who lives on Peachtree, had no use for the bike lanes. “We have enough traffic on Peachtree,” said. “We don not need any more distractions. We’re getting ready to build 12,000 more apartments. We do not need more bikes. Let them go somewhere else. It’s not that I don’t approve of bikers. I do. But they don’t belong on Peachtree.”
Resident William A. Davis agreed there was too much traffic in the area already and predicted adding bike lanes would “be a disaster.” “It’s unbelievable to me that it’s even being considered,” he said.
But other Buckhead residents welcomed the lanes. Katherine Jones said the redesign of the streets would allow more people to get around in Buckhead without cars. She says she walks to nearby restaurants, but finds it frightening at times.
“I think there are so many more people biking these days than there have been” she said. “Having bike lanes makes it safer for them. It makes a little more room for pedestrians, too. I walk from my apartment up Peachtree. It’s really scary.”
And Ian Rogers, a Georgia State University law student and one of a number of people at the meeting wearing stickers reading “I support safe streets,” said Peachtree now offers “a stressful environment” for both walkers and drivers.
“People want to walk, to walk to restaurants and to the grocery store …,” Rogers said. “This is not taking away from people driving up and down Peachtree, but to give access to the bikers. .. It’s a challenge. How do we balance the needs of drivers and bikes? Right now we don’t seem to have any support for the bikes. It’s cars, cars, cars.”
Resident Michael Wilds said the new lines were needed to accommodate the growing number of cyclists and to reduce traffic jams on Peachtree. But, he pointed out that if the new lanes made traffic worse, they could easily be undone.
“It’s just a paint job,” he said. “If they find out they’ve made a horrible mistake, they can just repaint them.”