Three Council Members Introduce Joint Resolution on Lane Width for Medlock Bridge Road
On Monday August 19, 2019, City Council Members John Bradberry, Chris Coughlin, and Stephanie Endres will jointly present a Resolution to clearly define a position on lane configuration for Medlock Bridge Road through Johns Creek. The Resolution is offered to address controversy that erupted after it was revealed that Johns Creek’s Public Works Department had pursued permission for a design deviation that would reduce the lane width on Medlock Bridge Road from 12-feet to just 11-feet. The request for the design deviation was sought by Public Works without any notification or review with City Council, and was brought to public attention through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by a city resident.
Wide Load Ahead
If you are a regular traveler on Medlock Bridge Road, you’ll recognize the situation above. There are no vehicle restrictions, and there is a great deal of heavy commercial traffic on SR141. Intuitively, narrowing lanes from 12-feet to 11-feet would likely lead to more accidents on our most heavily traveled corridor. However, it’s not necessary to rely on intuition. The Public Works Department authorized a study meant to support the request for the design deviation, and the study by Wolverton & Associates that was authorized by Public Works validates the point.
An Expected Increase in Accidents = Improved Public Safety?
As the request to reduce lane width was brought to public attention, the subject was raised at the City Council Meeting on July 22, 2019. Public Works Director Lynette Baker defended the request as a traffic calming measure designed to improve public safety, and as a prerequisite to a potential future request to reduce the speed limit on Medlock Bridge Road to a consistent 45 MPH. When asked whether lane reduction would guarantee the follow-on approval of a speed limit reduction, the Council was told that it could not be assured. At a subsequent City Council Work Session, it was suggested that the reduction of lane width would move cars two feet further away from the right shoulder, thus providing road noise reduction and nighttime light reduction for residents who live adjacent to those roads. These suggestions appear to represent a “reach” to justify a desired outcome, and were stated to be based on “logic and intuition”. No supporting facts were presented.
The arguments in favor of the requested design deviation to reduce lane width face several fatal flaws. First, the study results documented in the Wolverton memo state clearly that accidents would be expected to increase by 3%. Second, there is no GDOT requirement that predicates speed limit reduction on reduced lane width. Third, any projected safety improvements are solely attributed to a speed limit reduction, not lane width reduction.
GDOT requires objective, statistically driven criteria to justify speed limit adjustments, but there is no relationship between changing lane widths and speed limit adjustments. Indeed, arbitrary adjustments to the speed limit may reduce safety if the adjustment results in vehicles driving at speeds outside the 85th percentile of actual traffic speed.
So Why Reduce Lane Width?
Many residents have posed the question: why reduce lane width on Medlock Bridge Road when the expected result is more accidents? There has been speculation that the goal of reducing lane width is to free-up the space necessary to add a third lane on Medlock Bridge Road. Previous efforts to suggest road widening to add a third lane met with vigorous resistance from residents. The response to that resistance was the attempt to re-frame the effort so that road “widening” would not be necessary, that the alternative would reduce the existing lanes to 11-feet and re-purpose the existing shoulder and/or bike lane as a third lane. That would accomplish adding the third lane without requiring a wider corridor. Residents recognized the proposal for what it was, and continued with vigorous resistance. It must be noted for context purposes that the immediately adjacent municipalities to the south and north of Johns Creek have no plans to widen SR141 through their jurisdiction. As a result, any additional capacity added in Johns Creek would simply back up at bottlenecks at our borders. To many residents, the current push to reduce lane width on Medlock Bridge Road/SR141 is, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, like Déjà vu all over again.
Bringing us to the Joint Resolution
Recent discussions regarding the configuration of Medlock Bridge Road have been inconclusive. Councilman Bradberry (here) and Councilwoman Endres (here) both sought to introduce Resolutions to address both the decision on lane width, and the process by which it was pursued by Public Works. A lack of consensus in approach, and differences of opinion during Council’s discussion resulted in a lack of final decision in how to proceed. In the interim, Councilmembers Bradberry, Coughlin, and Endres have joined together to author a more cohesive Resolution that will be introduced for discussion during the August 19, 2019 City Council Meeting. You can read and download a copy of the Resolution here, or view the text below.
We applaud the objectives of this Resolution as it addresses the key points, provides data and fact-based positions, and sets an expectation that future transportation projects that focuses on clear problem statements, empirical data and analysis, and a need for post implementation measurement of performance to ensure that our investment of tax dollars delivers an appropriate measure of return on investment. Kudos to Councilmembers Bradberry, Coughlin, and Endres, and hopefully to those who join them in support of this Resolution.
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