The new downtown area around City Springs features a grid-like system of streets intended to reduce traffic pressures. But should neighborhood cul-de-sacs get the same cut-through treatment for cars and walkers? A policy debate is heating up, while one Georgia Tech expert says the city’s on the right road.
The concept, referred to by the city as “street connectivity,” is the idea of connecting roads, making commuting easier in larger cities.
City officials want to keep up with the rapid growth of the city with new roads and ways for people to travel without their car, creating a more grid-like system.
The possibility of connectivity in residential neighborhoods was discussed at an Aug. 6 City Council work session.
“In cul-de-sacs, everyone has to go around to get to where they are going…there are no direct trips,” Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said during his presentation to the council. “[Connectivity is] more conducive to walking and biking.”
“I think it’s a good compromise to protect our neighborhoods but to still connect our downtown urban settings,” District 3 Councilmember Chris Burnett said at the work session.
“Connecting up the cul-de-sacs for car travel as well as bikes and pedestrians is a less-studied topic and even less common practice,” Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor for the school of architecture at Georgia Tech, told the Reporter. “Sandy Springs could be a real leader in this.”
At the work session, council members approved city staff to continue studying the concept and to later present the findings to the Planning Commission.
Two alternatives have been approved by the council for further exploration – requiring bike/pedestrian connections if no vehicular connection will be required, and to prohibit connection to a collector in protected neighborhoods, or neighborhoods that are discouraged for higher density projects in the city’s Next Ten comprehensive land-use plan.
The Next Ten also includes plans for connectivity, stating that Sandy Springs should be made a “connected…city with expanded travel choices by enhancing the connectivity of the street and non-motorized network…by reducing the impact of traffic by managing traffic demand.”
City staff was asked to study the issue because of previous concerns expressed by residents for connectivity in Sandy Springs, primarily in neighborhoods, during a proposal to rezone four properties on Dalrymple Road last year to build single-family homes, according to the city’s Communications Director Sharon Kraun.
The developer’s proposal suggested extending Thornhill Lane into a new a cul-de-sac on the south side of Dalrymple. At a community meeting, one resident proposed creating a new road that begins farther east on Dalrymple and snakes through the property as a potential solution.
The overall proposal received heavy criticism from the community prior to the council’s vote, which was ultimately to deny the rezoning.
“Residents are worried that these connections will bring more traffic into their neighborhood,” Kraun said.
According to Tolbert, the advantages of connectivity include decreasing traffic on main roads by providing more direct routes, inspiring more non-vehicular trips and decreasing emergency response time.
“Low connectivity gives you a lot of cul-de-sacs, limited intersections, [and] long road sections, and puts all the traffic primarily on [one road],” Tolbert said.
The city has made attempts at more connectivity in the city, including the construction of Denmark Drive, a road that connects Boylston Drive and Roswell Road in an attempt to reduce traffic, which was completed in June 2018.
The city also extended Blue Stone Road from Hilderbrand Drive to Mount Vernon Highway in April 2018 as part of the City Springs civic center.
The city is also planning a cut-through at the intersection of Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway, which is currently an unusual X-shaped configuration, in an attempt for a more grid-like system. The cut-through would take a house and has been a controversial topic in the city.
Burnett says that he sees the positives for introducing street connectivity to Sandy Springs.
“Connectivity in some areas, particularly in urban settings, is a very positive thing and I think we have seen that in some of what we have already done in downtown Sandy Springs,” Burnett said.
But he agreed that the street connectivity concept should be left out of neighborhoods.
“Forcing roads into protected single family neighborhoods, I think the negatives outweigh it,” Burnett said. “So…I think it’s a good compromise to protect our neighborhoods but to still connect our downtown urban settings.”
District 1 Councilmember John Paulson said that the recommendations presented would do exactly what connectivity aims to achieve.
“I think this accomplishes what the intent of this was, which is not to create cut-throughs by forcing connection in some of these residential areas,” Paulson added.
Dunham-Jones told the Reporter that there is considerable research supporting the benefits of connectivity, with the average suburban house generating nearly 10 vehicular trips per day.
“If even one of those trips per house can become a walk or a bike trip, that is a 10 percent reduction in car trips on both the local and major streets,” Dunham-Jones said.
City staff will take the two alternatives and draft recommendations for consideration related to proposed amendments changes for the Planning Commission to review.
“Staff will…see if there are any solutions which balance development and connectivity with maintaining the character of…neighborhoods,” Kraun said.
The city does not yet have a timetable on when the potential amendments will be presented to the Planning Commission, according to Kraun.