City Policy Politics City Council contemplates renovation of East State Street to reduce traffic congestion By Elizabeth Chidlow Posted on March 13, 2017 11 min read 1 0 811 TNP file photo Athens City Council debated bike lanes and discussed a Sustainability Action Plan and possible extension of the bike path that follows the Hocking River. East State Street Project brought the heat. East State Street’s layout may be getting a makeover. The plan, developed by members of the Far East Side Neighborhood Association, the City Council Transportation Committee and Public Works Director Andrew Stone, follows up on the East State Street developed in 2016 as a segment of the pedestrian and bike plan. Council Member Peter Kotses, D-At Large, presented a potential lane design to the audience and council. It showed two primary lanes with a third middle lane for turning. Outside the lanes, there were bike lanes parallel with the sidewalk. Stone said the bike lanes would be an addition long-awaited by Athens residents and not a mandatory component. Director Stone of the engineering firm said the purpose of the project, however, is not primarily for bike lanes, but for reducing congestion and perception of danger at the interchange of U.S. 33 and East State Street. The width, he said, would be adjusted from mirroring the interstate to being more similar to the width of Richland Avenue. A majority of the audience were in favor of the project. However, the opinions of those who were not in favor of the project rang loud and clear. Council Member Patrick McGee, I-At Large, also played devil’s advocate momentarily. He questioned the project, asking whether it addresses the actual issue at hand. “I’m a little confused about why people think there are a run of pedestrians on State Street,” he said. “I don’t understand why there’s this connection with pedestrian safety with the bike lanes.” McGee said the real issue — reckless driving — may not be solved by redesigning the lanes and adding bike lanes. He pointed out a letter that he read where a constituent said bicyclists may be more at risk with bike lanes than if the lane is separate from the car lane. City Planner Paul Logue, on the opposite side of the spectrum, is in favor of the East State Street project. He expressed that pedestrian safety and mobilization are significant reasons for his support of the bike lanes. Logue combatted McGee’s stance, saying a space between the sidewalk and car lane that would create the perception and feeling of safety. He said the space, which is the bike lane, would help keep pedestrians out of harm’s way. “From having watched planning commission (meetings), city council meetings and city planning since 1999, I have every confidence in what Director Stone and our engineers are advising us,” Council President Christine Knisely said. “It doesn’t mean we are all going to agree on all of the details, but I do very much believe in what we are all working toward, which is a safer community for all our citizens.” Abe Alassaf, who is running for 2nd Ward Council, also spoke against the project, saying it catered to a minority (bicyclists), not the majority (drivers). Alassaf continued his three minutes of free speech by expressing his belief that Council had already made up its mind, aside from McGee and Council Member Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, on whether to support the project. He speculated why the council member who represented the East side of Athens was not present at the meeting. Although the mayor was not present, Clerk of Council Debbie Walker said the administration “wholeheartedly” supports the project. No decision was made, but conversation about tabling the project was promised. The Sustainability Action Plan rough draft is only 22 pages. Give it a read. Logue returned to the podium to discuss Athens Sustainability Action Plan. The rough draft of the proposal can be found on the local government’s website. Within the report, there are ten recommendations for making the city more sustainable. The proposals are as follows: “Reduce water consumption per capita, with special attention given to rental properties.” “Increase the renewable energy mandate in the SOPEC aggregation program with consideration (toward) locally generated renewable energy.” “Establish programs to retrofit homes and rentals for energy improvements and encourage more efficient new construction.” “Increase our zero waste initiatives such as curbside composting, recycling of hard-to-recycle materials, and reduction of total waste generated from all sources.” “Improve our multi-modal transportation network including public transit, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.” “Increase in middle-to-low income housing within the City of Athens.” “Require new construction projects to divert construction/demolition materials from landfill.” “Support local entrepreneurship by purchasing local products, incentivizing local (startups) to expand in Athens, and designating a permanent home for the Athens Farmers Market.” “Increase green infrastructure for city projects and private development.” “Create a sustainability awareness and education program.” Additionally, the report showed initiatives with which Athens residents are most concerned, such as a sustainable economy, waste and recycling, housing and development, food development, transportation, water and greenhouse gas emissions. The draft also discussed how Athens is currently addressing its residents’ needs. Alassaf returned to the podium, expressing concern over the smaller initiatives aforementioned, specifically the regulation of carbon taxes. “Are we gonna tax people to breathe?” he asked. He also questioned banning plastic bags, which was included as an initiative for sustainable waste and recycling. Alassaf also asked about the details of regulating the emissions of public vehicles. Overall, the City Council candidate implored that Council be more detailed and transparent about its initiatives and do more to benefit the city in the long run. Richard Linscott, a chairman of the City of Athens Environment and Sustainability Commission, clarified that the initiatives proposed were not done by the commission or Council but by community members at public meetings. Whether to finalize an ordinance to adopt the Sustainability Action Plan will be decided Monday, March 20. Good news for long-distance runners: The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway may be growing. City Council will propose the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, the bike path that runs past Ohio University and along the Hocking River, be extended. With the application, Council is asking for the path to be extended from Armitage Road to the University Estates, making the neighborhood accessible by bike trail. Council has until May 15 to submit its request. Legislation for the proposal will be presented at next week’s meeting.