The Brookhaven City Council approved Aug. 9 a controversial traffic calming plan for Brookhaven Heights intended to thwart Waze app and other motorists from cutting through the neighborhood as they try to avoid congestion on North Druid Hills Road.
Rather than implementing permanent partial road closures at Standard Drive and Thornwell Drive by making them right-in only from North Druid Hills Road as originally proposed three months ago, the plan approved Aug. 9 will implement temporary signs on these roads. The plan also includes speed humps, bump-outs, a roundabout and other physical changes to the streets.
The signs will prohibit turns into the neighborhood from North Druid Hills Road onto Standard Drive and Thornwell Drive during peak morning hours from 6 to 9 a.m. The plan also calls for a no right turn on Pine Grove Road from North Druid Hills Road during the afternoon peak hours, 4 to 7 p.m.
Councilmember Bates Mattison said he contacted the Waze app company and was told that temporary restriction turn signs will be listed as permanent turn restriction signs on the mobile app. Waze’s mission as listed on its website includes finding ways to “outsmart traffic.”
“This plan is a test of technology,” he said after the meeting. “It will really be a test on whether the signs work and if commuters are going to abide.”
The Brookhaven Police department will not have dedicated officers at the signs to enforce the prohibited turn signs, but will be on the lookout. Enforcement of the evening no-turn sign, however, may not be legal to enforce, Mattison acknowledged during the council work session.
“This is a first step towards trying to get a solution to reduce cut-through traffic,” he said.
The measures of the plan are:
— 12 new speed humps;
— 19 new “bump-outs,” also known as “chokers” or curb extension, that narrow a street. Most will go on Standard Drive and Thornwell Drive but two will go on Pine Grove;
— No left turn during morning peak hours sign on Standard (sign placed on North Druid Hills northbound);
— No Left turn during morning peak hours sign on Thornwell (sign placed on North Druid Hills northbound);
— Partial closure of Oglethorpe Avenue (right turn in and right turn out on North Druid Hills);
— Roundabout at Oglethorpe Avenue and Colonial Drive;
— Painted narrowing lanes over the bridge on Colonial Drive;
— Three new 4-way stop signs at Pine Grove, Thornwell and Oglethorpe on Matthews (these replace 2-way stops);
— Southbound turn restriction sign with no right turn on Pine Grove during the morning peak hours.
The bump-outs or chokers were just considered in the last week or so, Mattison said.
Councilmember Joe Gebbia said the police department currently lacks the resources to enforce the turn restrictions.
But police enforcement is what’s needed to ensure the safety and quality of life for the neighborhood, said Thornwell Drive resident Conni Todd.
“I think there’s a missing component in the vote and that’s what we’re going to do about he policing of the situation, or the accountability component,” she said after the vote.
“I think they’re right that there’s no 100 percent win. But I think as community we all want same thing … and that’s going to come from the police or traffic cops,” she said. “Otherwise this is just a Band-Aid.”
Several Brookhaven residents petitioned the city for traffic calming measures after an 18 month process that included getting more than 65 percent of residents to sign on to their plan. But when there proposals, including the partial road closures, became public in May, some residents living in the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods spoke out against the petition, saying it only moved heavy traffic from some streets to other streets.
A vote on the original plan was deferred in June and then again in July at Mattison’s request. He has held meetings over the past several weeks with those in favor and opposed to the measures trying to work out a compromise. The city will revisit the compromise plan in six months and decide if permanent measures need to be taken.
Paul Melita of Colonial Drive, who has opposed the plan since the beginning, said, “I think the people who put this petition in place got what they wanted and then some. But we’ll see what happens after six months and if there are adverse impacts on certain streets maybe we can tweak it.”
Councilmember John Park said that while he voted in favor of the plan he wasn’t happy with the process.
“Let’s be honest. We’re not going to solve the problems, we’re just going to shift the pain,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Park added the young city is still trying to define its culture and how it wants to deal with these kinds of issues.
Mayor John Ernst also expressed his dissatisfaction with the entire process, saying the compromise approved was “splitting the baby.” He also said it didn’t seem fair to keep coming back every six months to look at the issue.
“No one is happy,” he said. “I think the [original] plan itself was a lot of hard work with public input but it still had problems … I don’t believe this plan is innovative enough.
“I think this is the most uneasy I’ve been in my six months [as mayor],” Ernst said. “I apologize to the whole community. This is something we need to figure out.”
But Mattison said he did think the vote was a win and that he has no problem bringing up the issue every six months for the residents he represents. The real issue is fixing the traffic on Peachtree Road and North Druid Hills, he said.
“We need to preserve the safety and sanctity of our neighborhoods … and I don’t want to discount this step in the right direction,” he said. “And if we need to go further we will go further.”