A revised Ashford-Dunwoody Corridor Study that does not include any recommended major modifications to the unusual Johnson Ferry Road intersection was approved by the City Council on April 24.
The vote completes the approximately year-long, $125,000 study conducted by Gresham, Smith and Partners that aims to make the busy thoroughfare a more walkable and bikable corridor as well as seeking ways to alleviate congestion.
A draft version of the study recommended realigning the X-shaped intersection of Ashford-Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry roads by creating new bypass roads behind the Kroger and Publix shopping centers.
Backlash from residents and business owners led Mayor John Ernst to pull those recommendations completely from the study.
“The concept is not ripe yet,” Mayor John Ernst said at a council work session April 12.
Ernst said that although the proposed plans are good to have in place for planning and applying for grants, the future of the intersection is dependent on the redevelopment of the shopping areas around the Kroger and Publix grocery stores.
Redevelopment of those properties may be 10 or more years in the future and more ably handled by a future City Council, Ernst added.
“I think we eliminate it and let a future council deal with it,” he said.
Ernst also said feedback he received from the public was overwhelmingly opposed to the long-term vision for the intersection. City Councilmember Linley Jones suggested keeping the long-term plans for the intersection in an appendix, or to table that section for later action. But the mayor shot down those suggestions, saying he was concerned residents would believe the council was trying to deceive them.
“If we table it, people will see it as a ruse,” Ernst said.
The long-term proposal would have let most north-south traffic circumvent the Johnson Ferry intersection completely by creating new roads behind the Publix grocery store and the Cambridge Square shopping center, where Kroger is the anchor store. The existing intersection would remain for shopping access and east-west traffic.
Representatives from both the Cambridge Square and Publix properties addressed the council in recent weeks and said having such a vision on the books would hurt their businesses and cause tenants to abandon their spaces.
In an April 25 interview, Ernst said the history of the odd Ashford-Dunwoody/Johnson Ferry intersection dates back to the mid-1900s when Lynwood Park was an African-American enclave and Jim Crow laws affected travel.
Black people were forced to use Johnson Ferry Road and white people used what is now Ashford-Dunwoody Road, he said. “And that’s why we have that weird intersection.”
“My understanding … from oral history … is that Osborne Road was once Johnson Ferry Road and there used to be a bridge [over Nancy Creek] to connect to Lynwood Park,” he said.
DeKalb County eventually stopped maintaining the bridge, isolating Lynwood Park and leading to what is now Windsor Parkway as the community’s only point of ingress and egress, according to a 2008 Georgia State University history thesis by Veronica Menezes Holmes titled, “Stories of Lynwood Park.”
“From my limited history [including reading this thesis] and from what I have heard, [white people] always isolated pockets of African Americans … they wanted to control or monitor them, which led to different roads because of the Jim Crow laws,” Ernst said.
At the April 12 work session, Councilmember Bates Mattison asked that the corridor study include a clear message in an introduction or executive summary stating the city would work with property owners before any designs and plans are implemented as a way to assuage anxiety.
City Manager Christian Sigman agreed that would be prudent, saying the corridor study is a “visioning document” and that there will be public engagement before any plans in the study are developed.
The short-term plans for the Johnson Ferry Road intersection adopted by the council include: extending the right lane on northbound Ashford-Dunwoody Road from south of the Publix grocery store to Johnson Ferry Road and restriping existing lanes to create one longer dedicated left turn lane and one left/through/right lane.
The short-term plan also includes relocating an existing narrow median divider to prevent left turns into Publix from southbound Ashford-Dunwoody Road and separate northbound and southbound traffic; and improve the existing mid-block pedestrian crossing near Kadleston Way to include a small refuge island and pedestrian crossing signal.
A change expected to occur by the end of this year, but not part of the city’s Ashford-Dunwoody Corridor Study, is installation of a concrete island installed at the intersection of Donaldson Drive and Johnson Ferry Road. The island will only allow people driving on Donaldson Drive toward Johnson Ferry Road to turn right onto Johnson Ferry Road toward I-285.
City officials said the installation of the concrete island was mandated years ago before Brookhaven became a city as part of the Brookleigh development, a 56-acre master-planned community owned by the Housing Authority of DeKalb County.