Can a $10.5 million plan make Riverside Drive safer and more beautiful?

New vision for Riverside Drive

A new $10.5 million proposal would transform 1.2 mikes if Riverside Drive into a new gateway to downtown Macon. Planners with Stantec unveiled their vision Wed. Nov. 15, 2017.
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A new $10.5 million proposal would transform 1.2 mikes if Riverside Drive into a new gateway to downtown Macon. Planners with Stantec unveiled their vision Wed. Nov. 15, 2017.

Riverside Drive would be transformed into a beautiful pedestrian gateway to downtown Macon under a $10.5 million proposal unveiled Wednesday.

About two dozen people gathered at New City Church to see plans for a pedestrian and bicycle friendly corridor from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Madison Street near Riverside Cemetery.

Brad Belo, a planner for the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, said a Downtown Challenge grant from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia funded Stantec consulting firm’s vision for the highway.

The project took an item from the Macon Action Plan, a vision for the city’s urban core, a step further, he said.

“The idea is looking at Riverside Drive and really try to make it a true connection to downtown, the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, make it a gateway that we can truly be proud of that welcomes thousands of travelers through this corridor everyday,” Belo said.

Stantec’s Andrew Kohr presented a three-phase proposal to narrow traffic lanes, add medians, enhance sidewalks and plant vegetation buffers to make the road safer for walkers and cyclists.

“If you’re a pedestrian trying to cross this (Spring Street) intersection, it’s really daunting,” Kohr said in his proposal.

Kohr envisions a beautiful new entranceway to the urban core and potential site for a trail head park for the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, which eventually will connect the Ocmulgee National Monument to Amerson River Park with a leg along Riverside Drive.

In a study of the 1.2 mile path, Kohr found breaks in sidewalks, hazards with head-in parking spaces and non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This is your gateway to downtown, and this is the story you’re telling,” Kohr told the leaders gathered at the meeting. “We have to establish that vision of what we really want and what we can get done.”

The project will have to consider changes in traffic flow as the interchange is redone along Interstates 75 and 16, he said.

Concerns also were raised at the conclusion of the presentation that the project stops short of problem areas for pedestrians from the Pleasant Hill community north of Madison Street and for high traffic areas near North Avenue and Nottingham Drive.

Michael Ryan, a Pedestrian Safety Review Board member, was critical that not enough is being done to create safer bike corridors along arterial routes.

Michael Ryan, a member of Macon's Pedestrian Safety Review Board, was hit on Anthony Road in October of 2017. Ryan explains how road improvements have to be followed up with strict enforcement of traffic laws.

Last month, Ryan, 70, was hit by a car while crossing the intersection of Key Street and Anthony Road.

Riverside is a state highway managed by the Georgia Department of Transportation with multiple intersections, he said.

“Most accidents involving motor vehicles and citizens occur at intersections, and this crosses several big ones,” Ryan said looking at the renderings of the corridor.

Belo, also an avid cyclist on the review board, said many of the Riverside proposals will calm and slow traffic and create crosswalks and new signal lights.

“Maybe it will never happen on Riverside, but these concepts can make other routes safer,” Belo said after the presentation.

Changing the shape and design of roads is only half the battle, they said.

Belo and Ryan agree that enforcement of traffic laws and speed limits will go a long way to making the roads safer for walkers and cyclists.

Belo said Wednesday’s presentation was to get public feedback for the Riverside Drive proposal before plans are presented to the mayor and county commission for consideration.

He sees it as a way to lure redevelopment, like the New City Church property, in that part of town.

“It’s public investment here to encourage private investment,” Belo said. “It envisions a gateway for our community that really represents who we are.”

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines