Memorial Drive safety meetings scheduled Oct. 18 & Nov. 8

A pair of meetings to discuss essential safety improvements to Memorial Drive are scheduled on Oct. 18 and Nov. 8.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is planning to resurface Memorial Drive in Summer 2018. This project offers an opportunity to restripe the street to a lane configuration that is less confusing and safer for both pedestrians and motorists.

Representatives of the neighborhoods along Memorial Drive in the City of Atlanta have been working closely with GDOT through the Imagine Memorial transportation committee formed by Councilmember Natalyn Mosby Archibong in 2015. Please mark your calendar to attend one of the following meetings:

  • 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Lang Carson Recreation Center, 100 Flat Shoals Ave. SE (map)
  • 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Drew Charter School Elementary Academy, 301 East Lake Blvd. SE (map)

Your neighborhood representatives and GDOT staff will present details of the project, take questions, and listen to your input. Download a flyer as a PDF here.

What are the safety issues on Memorial Drive?

Safety concerns about Memorial Drive are nothing new. A recent traffic study funded by GDOT in coordination with the Imagine Memorial committee examined crash data from 2011 to 2015 for 27 intersections from Capitol Avenue to Candler Road. It found:

  • The 5.5-mile corridor from Capitol Avenue to Candler Road averages 220 crashes a year.
  • Crashes were higher than the statewide average at 8 of 27 intersections
  • Injury crashes were higher than the statewide average at 16 of 27 intersections
  • Fatal crashes were higher than the statewide average at 3 of 27 intersections
  • 38% of all crashes were related to left turns
  • 19% of all crashes were side swipes in the same direction

These discussions about safety took on a new sense of urgency after the March 20 death of Barbara Crawford, who was struck and killed by a driver at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Campbell Street. See our previous post for more details about that crash and our response.

So what does this project propose doing to Memorial Drive?

It proposes resurfacing and restriping 4 miles of Memorial Drive from Pearl Street in the west to Candler Road in the east. The restriping will convert this entire length into a consistent three-lane configuration with one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane. Depending on the location, this center turn lane may be two-way or one-way. This project aims to address safety issues that have been known for decades by longtime residents and studied carefully by traffic engineers and planners:

Memorial Drive has reversible lanes without controlled access

Memorial Drive looking to the east at night, near Pearl Street. The reversible lane signage is hard to see and confusing, especially for drivers unfamiliar with the area.

Reversible lanes can be effective for squeezing more cars through tight areas. They work best on roads that have “controlled access,” like a bridge or tunnel. That means there are few, if any, opportunities to turn left from the reversible lane. Obviously that’s not the case on Memorial Drive. We have hundreds of driveways and dozens of intersections that effectively turn the reversible lane into a center turn lane.

Reversible lanes are not common in Atlanta or Georgia in general, so most drivers are not used to them. Creating a consistent and predictable lane configuration will better match driver expectations and reduce crashes.

Some of Memorial Drive is an undivided four-lane road

Memorial Drive goes back and forth between three-lane reversible sections and four-lane sections. The Federal Highway Administration notes that crashes on undivided four-lane roads increase with volume, including the following types:

  • Rear-end and sideswipe crashes caused by speed differential between vehicles;
  • Sideswipe crashes caused by frequent and sudden lane changing between two through lanes;
  • Rear-end crashes caused by left-turning vehicles stopped in the inside travel lane;
  • Left-turn crashes caused by left-turning motorists feeling pressure to depart the shared through/left lane by following motorists and making a poor gap judgment;
  • Angle crashes caused by side street traffic crossing four lanes to make a through movement across an intersection, or turning left across two lanes;
  • Bicycle crashes due to a lack of available space for bicyclists to ride comfortably; and
  • Pedestrian crashes due to the high number of lanes for pedestrians to cross with no refuge.
This illustration from the Federal Highway Administration shows how a three-lane configuration improves driver visibility when turning.
This FHWA illustration shows how the number of potential conflict points at a typical intersection is cut in half.

Based on numerous case studies across the country, the FHWA expects crash reductions between 19 to 47 percent with these changes. A local example on a larger scale can be seen on Ponce de Leon Avenue. The route used to have six travel lanes (three in each direction). By changing to five lanes (two travel lanes in each direction and a center turn lane), crashes were reduced by 25 percent and vehicle throughput has consistently increased.

Pedestrians face long crossings across four lanes with high driving speeds

A major benefit of three-lane roads is the ability to install safer pedestrian crossings with “refuges” in the center. Pedestrians only have to cross one lane of traffic to get to the refuge, then they can cross the next lane. When combined with activated signage like Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons, this greatly improves the safety and comfort of those crossing. While the project currently proposed will not include raised pedestrian refuges, it will lay the foundation for another project to fund these in the near future.

Example of a pedestrian refuge installed after conversion of a four-lane road in New York.

This is an important project for the future of Memorial Drive and Southeast Atlanta and it’s impossible to cover every part of the project in one blog post. We encourage all residents to attend one of the meetings to learn more in person and get involved.