Streets are among the most powerful symbols of the public realm. They are the places where we live, work and play. They are our most fundamental shared spaces—a place to walk our dogs, go for a run or chat with our neighbors. A corridor study is an effective tool for assessing how well a street is currently operating in order to develop a future vision that meets the needs of all travelers along the corridor.
A vital “place” within the city of Brookhaven in DeKalb County, Georgia, North Druid Hills Road is a key corridor that connects neighborhoods and destinations such as schools, commercial centers and hospitals, and provides access to Interstate 85. People not only travel by car along this 2.6-mile artery, but also by foot, bicycle and bus.
In 2018, Brookhaven City Council selected Gresham Smith to conduct a comprehensive study of North Druid Hills Road to establish a vision for the future of the corridor. Our multidisciplinary team was charged with identifying projects that will improve operations and efficiency while allowing for projected future development, population growth, changes in commute patterns and forecasted traffic, and providing enhanced access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.
In this post, I take a look at the workings of a corridor study through the lens of the North Druid Hills Road project. The recommendations outlined by our team in the final Visioning Report will help connect people and places along and across this major thoroughfare via a range of multimodal travel options.
It’s Not Just About Moving Traffic
Gresham Smith was initially hired by the City of Brookhaven to lead its Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) in 2014. During the CTP process, we worked side-by-side with City staff to develop the plan, producing a list of recommendations and projects that led to the City’s first corridor study, Ashford Dunwoody Road.
We knew from our previous work on the CTP and Ashford Dunwoody Road that the corridor study for North Druid Hills Road wasn’t simply about moving traffic—it was about developing an overall vision and a series of projects that will enable all users to travel safely along the corridor, regardless of the mode of transportation.
First Things First
I was fortunate to serve as project manager on the North Druid Hills Road Corridor Study, which involved overseeing all project work. Our scope of work began with identifying the existing conditions in the field. This included evaluating current driving, walking and transit conditions, which helped us to better understand both issues and opportunities from the perspective of all users. We also assessed existing land uses around the roadway and explored transit activity, including how many buses were using the corridor, and how many people get on and off buses at stops along the road.
To establish existing capacity, operations and future conditions, we conducted a detailed traffic analysis at each of the study corridor intersections. Our team identified intersections that required signal and pedestrian improvements as well as roadway reconfigurations. We also identified locations for a multiuse trail based on the City’s Bicycle, Pedestrian & Trail Plan, along with areas that required paving, plantings and lighting improvements.
We then broke those recommendations down into short-, mid- and long-term projects, and provided the City with an action plan outlining how they could adopt these improvements in phases. These phases would eventually encompass the entire corridor and address the needs of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike.
Engaging the Public, the City & Stakeholders
Developing a corridor vision is a complex, multistep process. Our approach to corridor planning relies on close collaboration with City staff and officials, key stakeholders, property owners and the community at-large. The first phase of the corridor visioning for North Druid Hills Road focused on identifying issues and concerns related to safety, mobility and operations for all users.
In the spirit of transparency, our team held a number of public open houses early in the process to present key findings from the existing conditions assessment and solicit input from community members about issues, concerns and opportunities along the corridor.
As part of the open houses, we developed visualizations to help both the community and stakeholders understand what improvements to the corridor might look like in the future. Ultimately, public input served as the basis of an overall vision statement for the corridor study, reflecting both the community’s and City’s desires for the future of North Druid Hills Road.
Where Art Meets Science
Gresham Smith’s final recommendations for the North Druid Hills Road Corridor Study were developed through an iterative process, one in which our team worked throughout the course of the study as tasks were completed. Following the final public open house and the City’s direction on the final draft recommendations, we refined and finalized the recommendations, adjusting cost estimates, phasing and prioritization. The final Visioning Report was approved and adopted by the City of Brookhaven in April 2019.
Our context-sensitive, corridor-wide recommendations included: providing a continuous and multimodal network to create a comfortable and safe environment for all users; improving pedestrian crossings and connectivity; providing and enhancing streetscape elements in accordance with the City’s streetscape Design Standards; working with the DeKalb County School District to address changes to traffic patterns on city streets resulting from school redistricting; and developing additional standards to articulate a citywide branded wayfinding system.
At the end of the day, a corridor study can mean many things. As much an art as it is a science, this visioning document not only provides a technical analysis of a transportation facility, but is also grounded in the realities of funding, environmental compliance and the all-important public acceptance, which involves the art of being able to explain to the public how each recommendation is the optimal solution for a corridor.
With this document, a city council can pursue project funding from various sources, including federal and state dollars. Although certain projects might take several years to develop while others are of a more immediate nature, a Visioning Report facilitates the adoption of short- to long-term projects and serves as a genesis document that maps out the path that must be followed in order to make those projects become a reality.