Proposed Changes to East State Street Spark Debate

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ATHENS, Ohio – An Athens Transportation Committee proposal to add bike lanes to the city’s busiest street was met with opposition from city residents Monday night. More than a dozen residents stepped up to the mic in packed City Council chambers to speak to the committee’s proposals.

Residents of Athens showed up to the transportation committee meeting Monday night to sound off on the proposed renovations to East State Street.

The Plan…

The proposal would include:

  • Reworking the entrance and exit ramps in the U.S. Rt. 33/50 interchange
  • Repaving the five-lane portion of the road that starts near the interchange
  • Adding a sidewalk to the south side of the street near the Community Center
  • Repairing the three-lane portion of the road beyond the five-lane portion
  • Adding a traffic signal at the intersection of Home Street.

The proposal, developed by Athens Public Works Director Andy Stone, would cost $6 million.

Why The Plan Was Introduced…

Athens Council Member Peter Kotses said the proposal is being offered to improve the safety of those using the street.

“The big thing for me is bringing the speeds down,” he said. “Narrowing the lanes of vehicle traffic is a proven tactic at this point.”

And, Kotses said, the space created by reducing the width of the lanes could be put to better use.

“We have this extra space there so why not delineate and identify a new lane specifically for bikes so they don’t have to mix it up in traffic – I think it’s safer for everyone,” he said

While the addition of the bike lanes on East State would narrow the lanes, they would not be narrower than any other recently improved street in Athens. East State currently has 12-foot wide driving lanes. The renovations would reduce them to 10-feet – the same width as the lanes on Richland Avenue.

What’s All The Fuss About?

Alan Swank speaking before the transportation committee meeting Monday night.

Sunnyside Drive resident Ashley Eastman, said she thinks the proposal would benefit the city.

“We’re already famous for our local food movement, outdoor recreation, and if we can put a bike lane on the most prominent street in our town, then I think that sends a fairly big message that we are bike-friendly too,” she said. “I would personally be much more likely to bicycle on East State just doing my regular errands if there were a bike lane.”

But many attending the meeting said they disagree with the plan.

Council Member Patrick McGee said he was concerned the plan might have the opposite effect of creating safety problems.

“I don’t understand why there is this connection with pedestrian safety,” he said. “I am more concerned about the safety of what I perceive as a real threat to the bicyclist rather than the pedestrians.”

Athens resident Robert Delach said he thinks the bike lanes should not be a factor in deciding whether to go through with the ordinance.

“If you look at this project, narrowing the lanes of traffic will reduce speeds, which has been shown over and over again across the country,” he said. “This project is a win-win-win; It makes it safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers too. The bike lanes don’t even cost us any money here,” said Delach.

Moving Forward…

Further discussion on the ordinance will take place before the proposal is presented to council.