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ACC Commissioners give green light to Prince Avenue changes

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Athens-Clarke County commissioners voted unanimously last night to move ahead with making permanent changes to a stretch of Prince Avenue from Milledge to Pulaski. Under a two-month pilot program, the number of vehicle lanes was reduced from four to three and separated bike lanes were added.

"Some of us thought this day would never come," said Commissioner Melissa Link, who represents part of the Prince Avenue corridor. "It kind of feels a little surreal. But it's also been transformative to me and my regular commute back and forth to campus, to work."

Public comment around the changes to Prince Avenue was mostly in favor of the so-called “road diet.” Many of the speakers were from the neighborhoods around Prince Avenue, and a number were cyclists who said the changes made the street a safer place for bikes and pedestrians.

Not everyone was behind the changes, however. Speaking on behalf of the University of Georgia, Allison Bracewell McCullick, the university’s director of community relations, presented an array of objections to the proposal, including concerns about emergency response times, the aesthetics of the new look, and the narrowness of the vehicle lanes.

"The narrowed lanes hamper clearance for large vehicles and increase the potential for accidents," she said. "Ignoring the local standards set for road widths and urban areas defies an established safety measure in pursuit of another which still fails to achieve the original goal of a safe travel experience."

The Clarke County School District, which has administrative offices on Prince, also opposes the change.

One point of opposition mentioned by several speakers who addressed commissioners, including McCullick, was the Zicla Zippers – black and white blocks that separate motor vehicle and bike traffic. The zippers, according to some, have caused damaged and popped tires when motorists hit them.

Commissioner Mike Hamby voted for the changes to Prince, but hoped that the zippers could be replaced by a permanent curb.

"I hope we move away from the zippers - I think those have created a bit of consternation - and more towards the the curbing," Hamby said.

County staff indicated that the zippers would likely be replaced by a curb in the coming months.

The final vote from the commissioners was 7 – 0. Commissioners Allison Wright and Ovita Thornton were not present.

Commissioner Russell Edwards said he hoped that the Prince Avenue changes would serve as a model for future road diets.

"Every area that we have a bike lane we should just go ahead and put a curbed delineator that protects that lane, and just get it done," Edwards said.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to move ahead with legislation to regulate short-term vacation rentals. The measure now moves to the county’s planning commission to draft an ordinance before it goes back to commissioners for a final vote.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.