A massive trail plan approved by the Sandy Springs City Council would allow bicyclists and pedestrians to travel on 31 miles of paths through the city. But it could mean putting the new trails through neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs.

The council also approved changing the language in the city’s development code to require “connectivity” with trails and sidewalks in new developments, rather than strongly encourage it.

The master trail plan includes 31.4 miles of paths and will begin designs for a $33 million, 10-year implementation plan.

“When we talk about connectivity, it’s about creating pathways, like sidewalks and bike paths, not roadways for autos,” city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said in a written statement.

At an Oct. 15 meeting, the City Council approved the trail plan, which focuses on six major projects of 31.4 miles of paths to be completed in sections to provide connectivity throughout the city, including a connection of Abernathy Greenway to City Springs by way of a cul-de-sac on Wright Circle.

A recommended “model mile,” or pilot project, of trails would connect Marsh Creek and the Sandy Springs Tennis Center.

The master plan recommends a $33 million implementation plan to span 10 years. The implementation plan would complete some segments of three of the major projects, including:

■ Trails connecting Marsh Creek and the tennis center (expected to be completed by the end of 2021)

■ Trails connecting Ison Road, Morgan Falls Park, Roswell Road and the North River Shopping Center

■ A bridge over the Chattahoochee River at Morgan Falls

The estimated design and construction cost for the implementation plan is $33,360,000 but does not include right of way acquisition costs, according to the presentation.
After the initial 10 year plan, the future projects include trails connecting to:

■ Abernathy Greenway

■ City Springs

■ PATH400 in Buckhead (in the design process)

■ Crooked Creek Trail in Peachtree Corners

■ East Palisades Trail at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

■ Big Creek Greenway in Roswell

■ Hyde Farm in Cobb County

■ Cumberland Trail Network in Marietta

Greta DeMayo, a planner with Kaizen Collaborative, which worked on the master plan, said finding a connection to City Springs, the city’s new art and civic complex, proved to be one of the most difficult segments of the plan.

To connect the city’s center with the rest of the trails, the design has a trail connection between Abernathy Road and Johnson Ferry Road by using Wright Circle, a low-volume street behind City Springs. Wright Circle would be turned into a “neighborhood greenway,” or a street with slower speeds designated to give bicycle travel priority.

The connection would provide a route for trail users to get from Abernathy Greenway to City Springs by extending an existing walking trail behind the Synovus Bank at 280 Sandy Springs Circle to the existing side path on Johnson Ferry Road.

The end of Wright Circle turns into Hampton Drive, so the connection would be made by adding a trail off the Hampton Drive cul-de-sac, DeMayo confirmed. DeMayo said the connection would require an easement.

To connect City Springs with the rest of the trails, the master plan has Wright Circle providing a route for trail users to get from Abernathy Greenway to City Springs.

The plan was drafted by the PATH Foundation, a nonprofit that has overseen the construction and design of hundreds of miles of trails in the metro area. The study was funded by the city and the Sandy Springs Conservancy, a nonprofit parks advocacy organization.

The Conservancy held a Thought Leaders Dinner on Oct. 3 in which Ellen-Dunham Jones, director of the Urban Design program at Georgia Tech, presented the idea of creating connectivity between parts of the city by using trails and eliminating cul-de-sacs. Previously, Dunham-Jones told the Reporter that Sandy Springs could be a “real leader” in the initiative of connectivity.

Staff members noticed some confusing and inconsistent language in the development code as it pertains to connectivity, according to city documents.

In August, the council was presented with two alternatives to vote on at a later date – 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.

On Oct. 15, the council approved an amendment to the city’s development code regarding connectivity that allowed both alternatives.
Prior to the amendment, the development code read that “connections to existing roads are strongly encouraged in all districts.” Now, it reads that “connections to existing roads are required in all districts.”

The amendment says every developer of land within the jurisdiction must provide connectivity at no cost to the city, and must be dedicated or otherwise transferred, as required, to the public.

Bike and pedestrian connections will now be required if there is no connection for cars, but the code prohibits connection to a road in protected neighborhoods in the city’s Next Ten comprehensive land-use plan.

“In the future, these stable neighborhoods will retain their existing land use patterns, in order to maintain existing neighborhood character, quality of life and tree canopy,” the plan reads.

The Next Ten says 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.”

In August, city staff was asked to study the issue because of previous concerns expressed by residents for connectivity in Sandy Springs, primarily in neighborhoods, according to Kraun.

“Residents are worried that these connections will bring more traffic into their neighborhood,” Kraun said in August.

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.