The Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning has delayed until at least January any decision on the Northeast Georgia Plan for Bicycling and Walking.
The plan, designed to increase the safety and prevalence of walking and bicycling, was developed by the staff of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission in collaboration with its Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force. Six Oconee County representatives serve on that 32-member body.
The Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee reviewed and discussed the plan for 75 minutes at its Nov. 9 meeting and considered a resolution drafted by Oconee County staff that would have “recognized” the plan rather than “adopt” or “endorse” it, as NEGRC proposed.
The Committee voted 9-2 to consider the plan again in the future.
Twenty-five minutes later the Committee cancelled its December meeting, meaning the earliest it can discuss the plan again is at its scheduled meeting on Jan. 11.
The plan has four goals and objectives.
*Develop “facilities and policies” to encourage walking and bicycling in Northeast Georgia.
*Generate “confidence and security” for people walking and bicycling through the region.
*Support bicycling and walking trips between neighborhoods and regionally important destinations.
*Foster “active lifestyles,” promote “community-based commerce” and reduce the environmental impact of motorized transportation.
The plan contains a proposed “Bicycle and Pedestrian Network” that includes SR 15 from Watkinsville to the Greene County line, US 441 from Clarke County to Morgan County, and Mars Hill road.
The plan proposes that SR 15 have a paved shoulder in the future and that US 441 have a separate path for biking and walking. Mars Hill road widening plans already include a bike lane.
The plan also lists greenways along the Apalachee, Middle Oconee and Oconee rivers and the Athens Line, the rail line running from Athens to Madison and now designated as a Regionally Important Resource by NEGRC.
The biking and walking plan is advisory. NEGRC has no enforcement authority.
Following the vote to postpone a decision on the Bicycling and Walking Plan, the Committee took action on a request from the Oconee County Cycling Organization to post Share the Road signs on four county roadways.
All 11 members of the committee agreed to recommend to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners that the signs be installed on the roadways if OCCO pays for the signage.
County Public Works Director Emil Beshara said he would put the signs on Simonton Bridge road at county expense, but he also wants to put up a sign that says bicyclists should Ride Single File on the road, even though state law allows bicyclists to ride two abreast.
Beshara said his sign would be yellow—meaning it was advisory—rather than white, which, he said, designates a requirement.
Beshara also said he already has put up Share the Road signs on New High Shoals road, one of the four roads for which OCCO had originally requested the signage. The others were Simonton Bridge road, Colham Ferry road and Barnett Shoals road.
The Athens Banner-Herald reported on Nov. 15 on the Nov. 9 recommendation of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee that the roadways be signed, but it made no mention of the discussion of the Plan for Bicycling and Walking in its story.
I did not attend the Nov. 9 meeting, but I did watch a video of it made for me by citizen Sarah Bell.
The Committee first viewed a PowerPoint presentation about the Bicycling and Walking Plan by Nina Kelly, a planner with NEGRC, and then discussed biking in the county. Little was made of walking, and almost nothing was said of the actual details of the plan.
NEGRC included two sample endorsement resolutions as part of the appendix to the bicycling and walking plan.
In one, Oconee County would endorse the plan. In another, the county would adopt the plan.
Wayne Provost, director of Strategic and Long-Range Planning for Oconee County, offered the Committee a third resolution that he said he had drafted. It merely recognized the plan.
The two resolutions proposed by NEGRC said the county recognized the “need to promote non-motorized transportation options to improve air quality and public health.”
Provost’s rewrite said the county “recognizes the potential for non-motorized transportation options to improve air quality and public health.”
Provost said he offered the revision because of “a skepticism of central planning” on the part of local government officials.
In fact, BOC Chairman Melvin Davis sent the other four members of the Commission an email message on Oct. 1 telling them he thought “the Board should give strong consideration to supporting the ‘Recognition” resolution” rather than the two from the NEGRC.
Committee member Richard McSpadden spoke out against Provost’s resolution.
“Let’s either have the leadership to say we endorse the plan or we don’t,” he said. “I want this committee to take a leadership stand and push the county into thinking strategically about where we want the county to go.”
Planner Kelly told the Committee NEGRC expects each of the 12 counties in the NEGRC region to reach a decision on the plan by June.
After deciding to continue discussion on the plan in the future, the Committee turned to the signage issue.
In a letter written in July by McSpadden, who was then president of the Oconee cycling organization, the cyclists asked the county to sign the four roads and said the group “is ready to partner with the county to fund and install the signage.”
The county sent the request to the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, which took it up at its meeting on Sept. 14.
At that meeting, Public Works Director Emil Beshara said he was concerned that installation of the signs might increase the county’s liability should an accident with a cyclist take place on a road with a sign.
Beshara conceded at the Nov. 9 meeting that the signage would have no effect on liability. State law specifies that bicyclists have the same right to the roadways as do drivers of automobiles, he said.
Beshara also acknowledged at the Nov.9 meeting that he had installed the signs on New High Shoals road this summer, even though he raised the objection at the September meeting.
The Committee dispensed with the signage issue in 10 minutes.
Citizens attending Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting are allowed to speak only on issues on the agenda, and only after the committee has finished its discussion of those issues.
So Committee chairman Abe Abouhamdan recognized the dozen citizens present, mostly bikers, after the action on signage had already been taken.
Tony Glenn, an Oconee County citizen representative to the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, was present. He, among others, objected to the proposed signs telling bicyclists to ride single file.
The argument was that motorists would think riding two abreast was a violation of the law.
Beshara offered a counter proposal.
He said he would be willing to change the wording of the sign to Please Ride Single File.