Monday, October 1, 2018

The "What" of Streetscapes-- Germantown Road, Exeter, and Beyond

A recent social media uproar over the proposed Exeter streetscape project caused me to think about traffic. I admit I am not fond of sitting around in congested traffic and I dislike navigating narrow streets. I am not alone. This article describes the ways that traffic congestion causes the quality of life to deteriorate. 

The Effect of Traffic Congestion

"What you may not realize is the extent of the effects heavy traffic congestion can have. This gridlock can have a tremendous impact on your personal life, career, your future and even your safety. Finding a solution to traffic congestion could mean a vast improvement in the quality of life in your area." 

Germantown is fortunate be be relatively free of heavy traffic at non-peak hours, at least for now. Commuters who are familiar with driving conditions in Atlanta, Houston, or Nashville are thankful every day that we live here. 
Well, hang onto your hats! There is a list of projects in our future, which, along with dense development currently favored by the City, may well lead to significantly more traffic headaches. I am going to examine what is in store for us. 

I begin with the completed Germantown Road streetscape project. 


Last fall the City implemented a streetscape plan for Germantown Road in old Germantown. The left turn lane from Germantown Road to Poplar Pike was shortened, and the lanes were narrowed. Trees were planted and benches were added. The first contract, for planning and design, was awarded for the Germantown Rd. streetscape in March 2016.     

The original construction contract  passed (3-1) at the June 25, 2017 BMA meeting. Alderman Massey voted "no" because of the cost of the project in the same year that property taxes increased. He also stated that residents had a concern about traffic and wondered if it could lead to future Germantown Road realignment. Alderman Barzizza abstained because he wanted more citizen feedback. His proposed amendment to defer the vote failed. The construction period, ending around Thanksgiving, caused businesses headaches and lost revenue. But the traffic woes did not end with the completion of the project. Due to complaints by businesses and churches in the area, on June 25, 2018, the construction contract amount was increased by $72,223 to a total of $792,634. In order to help facilitate traffic flow, two parking spaces that had been added during the construction were eliminated.

For a total price tag of nearly one million dollars, we have a street that is attractive. I personally have never seen bikers or walkers on the street, nor have I seen anyone sitting on the benches. One of the major goals of streetscapes is to accommodate and encourage alternative forms of transportation-- walking and biking. Commuters at rush hour and school let-out times still yearn for the pre-streetscape days, as now there are traffic jams where none existed prior to the work. The cause of most of the backed-up traffic is the shortened left-hand turn lane onto Poplar Pike.

The concept drawing below was prepared by the City. B
e wary of "concept" drawings as they tend to embellish things like pedestrian traffic that doesn't materialize and parking lots that miraculously transform into paved brick areas with picnic tables. A commuter sent me the picture indicating the magnitude of the traffic problem on Germantown Road at rush hour. According to him, this traffic scene never occurred prior to the streetscape being implemented. Compare the reality of rush hour traffic to the concept provided by the City in its PowerPoint.  

For those  unfamiliar with the area, I marked the approximate place in the map where the rush hour traffic photo was taken. The cars are going south on Germantown Road between Poplar and Poplar Pike. The traffic is backed up from Poplar Pike past to the historic First Baptist Church on Methodist Hospital grounds.

I spoke with an area business owner who stated that businesses were not notified about the final plans, and were given little notice prior to the construction commencing. Had the businesses been consulted, they likely would have advised the City that the two extra parking places near Poplar Pike would impede traffic. Removing the two extra parking places later cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars (see June 25 action above). Businesses suffered financially during the construction because access to the area was difficult. At one point in the middle of construction, the City stopped work for two full weeks while changes were made to the design, and that delay extended the losses. Everyone
 agreed that the contractor, Ferrell Paving, did a great job on the project, and was responsive to the needs of the businesses throughout the construction. However, naturally, the contractor was not able to mitigate all the financial damage that the construction caused.

Since completion of the project, the business owner has witnessed incidents that demonstrate the safety issues that have resulted from the streetscape plan. At one point
 a police car with sirens blasting and lights on was waiting in the traffic line along with all the other cars. The lanes are so narrow that cars turning right onto Germantown Road always end up in the oncoming lane of traffic. This design feature has caused at least one accident. Pipe bollards that have been installed to protect business patrons from traffic may not be adequate due to improper placement.

Unquestionably, at high traffic times, this road simply does not function as well as it did prior to the streetscape. One possible way to improve the situation is to install a traffic light at the corner that has more options to vary the timing of various signals at high traffic times.

Germantown Road streetscape is over and done. Let's look to the future. What is next? 



Exeter, home to the new Trader Joe's, is next in the City's streetscape cross-hairs. The plan calls for Exeter to go from two lanes to one lane in each direction in order to add a wide, park-like median, parallel parking and a sidewalk. In addition to Trader Joe's, 200+ new apartments and several new businesses in the Thornwood development will draw traffic to the area. Let's not forget that GPAC will be adding an outdoor venue. It seems like an odd time to be removing lanes of traffic from a street. Business owners in the area are already starting to question the plan and are expressing concern about how the plan will affect their businesses. 

Those who work in the area claim that first responders use the street several times a day. Ambulances and fire trucks will be stuck in one lane of traffic along with all the cars on the street that can't pull over. Oh, and yes, all the while drivers will be attempting to parallel park. Germantown does have a bit of public transportation-- buses that use Exeter Road! The plan apparently is that buses, cars attempting to parallel park, ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars will share one lane of traffic each direction, all to accommodate a median park in the middle of the street. Those of us that like bike lanes need to take note that Exeter already has functioning bike lanes.  

Germantown citizens have common sense, and also drive cars. That is likely why a Facebook poll taken in the Germantown Bulletin Board group reflected citizens' strong objection to this project, showing 694 people against the Exeter plan, and 24 in favor of it:  

Reprinted with the  express written permission of Patrick Green

The capital expenditures budget shows that $500,000 will be spent this year on the Exeter project:


Click to enlarge

The $500,000 comes from "Hall tax" funds, as shown in the first line of the above capital improvements budget, meaning the City could choose to use the funds on any capital expenditure project that it desires. For example, alternative uses of the funds could include GMSD capital expenditures or much needed drainage projects in the City. The total cost of the Exeter project is expected to be approximately $2.5 million dollars.

From the City website:  


The eventual plan for Exeter includes the length of the street between Poplar and Neshoba, but it will be completed in stages. It is my understanding that the roundabout at Neshoba and Exeter, and the area in front of GPAC will not be the first portion of the Exeter project executed. A search of this fiscal year's BMA minutes yielded no further information on this project, indicating that so far there have been no votes taken on contracts. 

This Kimley-Horn document indicates the roundabout may be in our future: 

Click to enlarge


Here is a list from a presentation at a BMA retreat last year. Note that the total dollar estimate for streetscapes is estimated to be over nineteen million dollars. 

Here are the streetscape plans for these streets on the City website. All of these streets are in the plan, and in many cases the streets will lose whole lanes of traffic. 

In addition to the above, changes to Kirby Parkway and Poplar in the Western Gateway area are detailed in the Small Area Plan for West Poplar.

For an example of what is coming, let's look at Farmington east of Germantown Road:  

Directly adjacent to what is probably the largest grossing retail establishment in the City (Kroger), an entire lane of traffic in each direction is eliminated (going from three to two). How will this not significantly worsen traffic in the area? This area is already difficult to traverse. 

It is a good thing the West Street proposal is not pictured in the presentation. I might get apoplexy. 


Why, you ask? Why is the City trying to make development projects denser, and at the same time creating crowded conditions on our roads by eliminating lanes of traffic? I will explore the "why" of the streetscapes plan in a subsequent post.  

One hint may be found in the City's presentation:  


  1. This is a boondoggle. Look at the plan for Poplar Avenue beween Germantown Road and Exeter (Poplar EAST of Germantown Road). RESTRICTED trun lanes in to one of the busiest shopping centeres in Germantown. Alos, I agree that the changes to Germantwon Road between the railroad track and Poplar Pike have made traffic much worse. I have seen no one sitting on the nice benches. Nor have I seen any cyclists. I HAVE seen the Telephone/Utility poles that are located in teh MIDDLE of those new sidewalks!! What a great feature.... :(