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Establishing priorities first step in road planning

By Dan Fischer
Special to The Macon Telegraph

I n earlier observations regarding Macon-Bibb County road system planning, I concluded that the process itself is flawed when we treat road system improvements as an engineering exercise, not an urban planning challenge. I will take this opportunity to suggest how a planning-driven process would work.


Should the lack of effective planning concern the citizens and public officials of Macon/Bibb County - or does it affect only those unfortunate residents adjacent to street improvement projects? Street and transportation systems are singularly important factors in determining urban form. Improvement projects are not benign: They can provide real benefits when done properly, and damage the very soul and appeal of a city when unsound. They also are expensive, making it poor public policy to waste tax and matching funds on unnecessary projects when critical ones have yet to be identified. Planning is the tool which allows us to view our streets as a dynamic, interconnected system rather than as isolated engineering projects.

The first step is to establish community priorities which will govern all planning in Bibb County, transportation included. Fortunately, we've already begun this process, thanks to concerned citizens reacting to very real threats to the charm of Macon and its neighborhoods. Preservation of Macon's beauty, quality of life, historic heritage and neighborhoods are values that resonate throughout the community and take precedent over "traffic flow." I would suggest the added goal of achieving a comprehensive transportation system which includes pedestrian and transit alternatives to the automobile. We need to formalize our priorities through public forums with broad public input (that is the responsibility of Bibb County and the city of Macon and cannot be delegated to a private contractor).

Another essential step is to develop a formal "Street System Plan" which supports the county's existing and future land use plan and clearly designates street classifications, missing links in the street system that could lighten the traffic on existing streets, and future road requirements. To preserve Macon's character, streets with unique aesthetic characteristics or historical significance should be identified, as should strategies for protecting them. Experts such as Walter Kulash can make their greatest contribution at this point in the process.

Here again, broad public input is vital, as the issues affecting neighborhoods should be thoroughly debated at the initial planning stages, not "in front of the bulldozer," as is currently the case. Once current classifications are mapped, they should be challenged: Streets should be classified to their desired, rather than their de facto, function given current system deficiencies. Future land use designations should likewise be reviewed for compatibility with transportation system capacities.

In developing a Street System Plan, we must calculate realistic capacities for existing arterials and collectors, especially bottlenecks such as Vineville Avenue. It is logical to work from the center out, rather than from the fringes in, purposely limiting the traffic loads which will be funneled onto existing streets and corridors to acceptable levels. If increased traffic is undesirable or unmanageable, don't increase the capacity of feeder streets. Intentional constraints are an effective planning tool; over-design is counter-productive, as traffic will follow the course of least resistance. It is important to recognize that existing streets do not need to be brought into compliance with modern engineering standards when upgrading would diminish their character and harm neighborhood integrity. Safety requirements can be met by controlling traffic loads, making minor intersection improvements, improving signals and signage, setting appropriate speed limits, restricting parking and enforcing traffic laws.

A final observation: I-75 and I-475 are the most viable and cost-effective arterial-level components of the county transportation system, but are grossly underutilized. A high priority for transportation system improvements should be additional interchanges and lane expansions to maximize local benefits and relieve the pressure on internal streets; two critical interchanges would be Northside Drive on I-75 and Bass Road at Tucker Road on I-475.

Will demanding appropriate planning slow down implementation of the transportation improvement plan? It may in the short term, but it is better to do nothing than to ravage a beautiful city and do irreversible damage to vital neighborhoods! Let's look before we leap, and maximize the benefit of our tax dollars by spending them on projects that are necessary and beneficial.

Dan Fischer, a Mercer University administrator and a resident of Bibb County for the past 11 years, has a background in city management and urban planning, mostly in Colorado. He authored an utopian novel exploring the viability of an auto-free city with strong community values and a true "participatory democracy" ("Anthropolis: A Tale of Two Cities," Mercer University Press, 1992).

*Ron Woodgeard column: Roads plan haunts the city


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