District One Candidate Ratings and Responses

We asked the candidates running for City of Decatur Commissioner a few questions. Here are the District One candidates’ responses and our ratings.

Erin Braden

Decatur Bicycle Coalition Board Rating: A+

Where do you walk and ride a bike? Do you have thoughts about how safe it is in those areas? What kind of plans do you imagine that might improve our infrastructure, making it safer for walkers, people on bikes, and people in wheelchairs?

I walk frequently in my neighborhood and in the Decatur Cemetery, both of which are quite safe for walkers and bicyclists. My son walks or bikes to and from school every day, as do many children in our neighborhood. My husband is the primary road cyclist in our family, but we also walk or bike as a family to the square to enjoy our downtown. I enjoyed creating the Decatur Bike Derby in 2012 in collaboration with bike enthusiasts, a successful fundraiser for F.AVE that encouraged bike fun and safety for students of all ages. Unfortunately, the annual event only lasted three years after I left the school, because of the difficulty of finding volunteers at a 2-year school. I would love to see a biking event for Decatur that incorporates activities for all ages, from racing to bike education to safety.

I support the Community Transportation Plan Update with its focus on a dynamic and well-rounded transportation network that enhances the environmental health of the city and increases the wellness of its residents. Pedestrian and bicycle safety needs continuous improvement in Decatur. The City undertakes sidewalk improvements every year, but we need renewed focus on safety and timing of pedestrian signal crossings especially on our major arterial roads. The Commerce cycle track will increase pedestrian and bike safety, once finished, and help with connectivity through the city.

I support an infrastructure that will protect people, connect neighborhoods, schools, parks and businesses, and decrease traffic congestion. An infrastructure that is pragmatic and safe will encourage people to use alternate means of transportation when and where viable like bicycles, walking and mass transportation. Not all people can walk or bike to every destination, however, and we do need to get traffic moving through Decatur. The focus should be on improving traffic flow at lower speeds, along with safety enhancements for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The Decatur Community Transportation Plan Update of 2018 recommends that the City of Decatur adopt Vision Zero. Do you support this? If so, what specific, actionable plans do you have to help the city achieve Vision Zero? Are there particular parts of the city that you find particularly worrisome or dangerous for motor vehicle drivers and people on bikes or on foot? What changes might you advocate for in those parts of the city?

I support Vision Zero and believe zero pedestrian/bicyclist fatalities should be our goal. The latest report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that more pedestrians and cyclists were killed last year in the U.S. than in any year since 1990, a very disturbing trend. Possible causes include distracted driving and larger vehicles, but speed certainly plays a role.

Decatur’s Community Transportation Plan Update in 2018 highlighted several roads and intersections for improvement. In order to prioritize projects for improvement, input from the entire community is essential. Highlights from the plan include several roads I have been concerned about personally, such as Commerce at N. Candler, Commerce at Clairemont, Scott Blvd, and others. We have several intersections where pedestrians need more time to make decisions and cross roads. Some options to consider are more intersections with all-pedestrian phases, plus automatic pedestrian phases, even when the pedestrian button is not pushed.

The Decatur PATH Connectivity Implementation Plan recommends a connected set of protected multi-use paths to make walking, biking, and wheelchair use safer in Decatur for children and others. What are your thoughts on the plan and its recommendations? What might you do to further its implementation? Is there anything you might change?

I support having a safe network of multi-use paths through Decatur and the Decatur PATH Foundation Connectivity and Implementation Plan. I do believe that there is a need for more public education and outreach about the plan, so that people understand the purpose and need for safe multi-use paths. Many do not know the planning history of the construction projects recently completed and currently underway, and more context would be helpful to address resentment over impacts on traffic.

Once the Commerce Drive Cycle Track construction is complete, it will provide a needed connection with the N. McDonough streetscape improvements and future protected bike lanes on Church Street. I think it is important to plan for the future possibility of a Clifton Corridor Transit line, which would link Decatur and key areas with light rail and Marta stations.

Many municipalities are reexamining their parking minimum requirements. For example, the City of Atlanta recently lowered its parking minimum requirements. (Decatur’s parking minimum stipulations are in Article 7 of the City of Decatur’s UDO.) Research suggests that lowering or removing parking minimum requirements decreases traffic, promotes sustainability, and increases amounts of affordable housing. What are your thoughts on Decatur’s parking minimums? Would you support the removal of parking minimum requirements in the city?

I am in favor of lowering parking minimum requirements in Decatur in order to increase the affordability of housing and encourage smart growth. Since lower income households tend to own fewer vehicles, and younger households are trending away from car ownership, the city can be forward thinking and reduce costly parking in future housing developments. We should analyze the results of lowered parking minimums in other cities in order to determine an appropriate minimum requirement.

I do not support the removal of parking requirements, altogether. Our revised parking policies should accommodate necessary parking, while at the same time encouraging pedestrian and transit friendly designs, promoting alternative modes of transportation, improving air and water quality, and preserving greenspace. We need to combine the decrease in the supply of parking with efforts to decrease the demand for parking, to be successful in meeting these goals.

Studies show that the most important factor in improving safety outcomes for all street users is to decrease traffic speeds. Unfortunately, The Georgia Department of transportation has frequently been an impediment to decreasing speed limits in the city of Decatur, particularly on state routes, such as South Candler Street, Scott Boulevard, and Clairmont Road. How do you imagine you might engage with the Georgia Department of Transportation to make our streets safer?

Transportation planning in Decatur requires collaboration with Dekalb County and the GDOT, so our city commission will need to collaborate more extensively with other governmental entities to make our roads safer. The current changes to the Clairemont/Scott Blvd. intersection proposed by GDOT have raised many concerns about vehicular speed and pedestrian safety. With GDOT jurisdiction over state roads in Decatur, they often do not need to get city approval for projects. It is a positive development that GDOT agreed to the city commission’s request for a public hearing to get community input. Decatur residents need to participate in that process once the hearing is scheduled. The key to influencing state decisions will be that collaborative relationship, and I will work hard to accomplish our priorities for safer streets.

Road diets have been shown to be a good way to improve safety outcomes for all street users, especially for people on foot, on bikes, and in wheelchairs, who are the most vulnerable users of our streets. They can also have a positive effect on an area’s economic growth. What are your thoughts on road diets in the city of Decatur? 

I agree that road diets are useful and necessary. They are extremely helpful for pedestrian safety. We have seen it work. The city responded to residents’ requests for a road diet on Howard Avenue, in order to slow traffic and increase pedestrian and bike safety. The temporary measures put in place on that road have proven successful at slowing traffic and improving safety, and will lead to a better, more permanent solutions once funding is identified.

The challenge is how to improve the traffic patterns in Decatur without diverting traffic onto smaller residential streets through navigation apps. Keeping our focus on smart growth policies to encourage all modes of transportation will pay off in the future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in its 2018 report that humans have twelve years to make a series of urgent changes to phase out CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in order to forestall catastrophic consequences. What actions do you support in the City of Decatur to drastically decrease CO2 emissions? How do your transportation and mobility priorities support CO2 reduction?

Cities are a huge contributor to climate change, and I support the City’s efforts at reducing our CO2 emissions in every way possible. We need more public education on the steps that we all can take to reduce our own CO2 emissions, and smart policies to encourage use of alternate modes transportation and sustainable practices throughout Decatur. I support the work of the Environmental Sustainability Board and the Active Living Board to encourage sustainable practices throughout our city, in transportation, building codes, energy use, waste management, and other arenas.

George Dusenbury

Decatur Bicycle Coalition Board Rating: B

Where do you walk and ride a bike? Do you have thoughts about how safe it is in those areas? What kind of plans do you imagine that might improve our infrastructure, making it safer for walkers, people on bikes, and people in wheelchairs?

I walk to and from the Decatur MARTA station (about at 15-minute walk) nearly every weekday, taking MARTA to work. I walk to Kroger and downtown frequently, and also will walk to Glenlake Park. I will ride to Glenlake Park and Kroger. I used to ride to work (Midtown) but changed that habit when I broke my foot. I plan to start riding to work more frequently once our oldest son graduates high school and I no longer (as is our habit) walk with him to school/the MARTA station. There are opportunities to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, especially at intersections. The sidewalks along Commerce Drive east of Clairemont and on North Candler are dangerous.

I strongly support investments in pedestrian infrastructure to ensure that existing sidewalks are safe and accessible to those with disabilities. I support providing a sidewalk along all Decatur roads. I believe that we need to invest in dangerous intersections to improve the pedestrian experience. Scott Boulevard and Clairemont, Clairemont and Commerce, Church and Commerce being but three examples. As part of that effort, I support expanded us of the “pedestrian scramble” signal, where lights are red in all directions to allow pedestrian to cross. A pedestrian scramble currently exists at the corner of Ponce and Clairmont. As President of the Downtown Decatur Neighbors, we have been advocating for pedestrian scrambles at the intersections of Commerce and W. Ponce, Clairemont, Church and North Candler.

We should look to expand bike lanes where feasible, especially where there is excess road capacity.

The Decatur Community Transportation Plan Update of 2018 recommends that the City of Decatur adopt Vision Zero. Do you support this? If so, what specific, actionable plans do you have to help the city achieve Vision Zero? Are there particular parts of the city that you find particularly worrisome or dangerous for motor vehicle drivers and people on bikes or on foot? What changes might you advocate for in those parts of the city?

I support Vision Zero. In addition to the specific intersections listed above, Scott Boulevard and Commerce Drive are particularly worrisome. The intersection of Superior and North Decatur Road likely is the most dangerous intersection in the City. I also would examine all of the City’s Safe Routes to School to identify dangerous areas, reaching out to residents and the schools to ensure a thorough catalog of challenging sites and prioritizing them for getting fixed. We should prioritize investments in improved traffic signals and creating scramble intersections.

I also would look to hire two new public safety officers whose sole purpose would be to enforce traffic violations, targeting the most dangerous intersections and school routes. The goal would be to have the revenue generated by enforcing the law pay for the cost of the two officers. Cities like Doraville derive the majority of their revenue from traffic violations, so I believe that Decatur could generate sufficient revenue for this to be budget neutral.

The Decatur PATH Connectivity Implementation Plan recommends a connected set of protected multi-use paths to make walking, biking, and wheelchair use safer in Decatur for children and others. What are your thoughts on the plan and its recommendations? What might you do to further its implementation? Is there anything you might change?

I think that the Decatur PATH Connectivity Implementation Plan is a good plan. The City should continue to invest in its implementation. I generally believe that the City should ensure that existing infrastructure is safe before investing in new infrastructure.

Many municipalities are reexamining their parking minimum requirements. For example, the City of Atlanta recently lowered its parking minimum requirements. (Decatur’s parking minimum stipulations are in Article 7 of the City of Decatur’s UDO.) Research suggests that lowering or removing parking minimum requirements decreases traffic, promotes sustainability, and increases amounts of affordable housing. What are your thoughts on Decatur’s parking minimums? Would you support the removal of parking minimum requirements in the city?

I do not have strong feelings on parking minimum requirements. In general, developers cannot get funding if they do not have parking to the level required by their investors – that is the real driver in how many parking spaces are built. There may be small-scale exceptions for retail in walkable communities.

Studies show that the most important factor in improving safety outcomes for all street users is to decrease traffic speeds. Unfortunately, The Georgia Department of transportation has frequently been an impediment to decreasing speed limits in the city of Decatur, particularly on state routes, such as South Candler Street, Scott Boulevard, and Clairmont Road. How do you imagine you might engage with the Georgia Department of Transportation to make our streets safer?

GDOT generally will be resistant to our efforts, so this will have to be a collaborative, long-term effort. And in our approach, we will have to be patient, polite and persistent.

I believe that Decatur first should prioritize the streets for which it would like lower speeds and find examples of other Georgia cities that reduced speed limits on state streets (likely contracting with a traffic engineering firm to gather this data). The City should then meet with its state senator and representatives to seek their support in meeting with our GA Dept. of Transportation Board Member to lobby on our behalf, adjusting our strategy to incorporate their recommendations. We will need to continue to ask questions and amend our strategy and priorities to adapt to GDOT’s arguments. GDOT also may offer paths forward that we had not thought of.

Another option would be to try to get GDOT to delist a state route. To do that, we would have to identify an alternate route that could accommodate truck traffic connecting key destinations. This would be a difficult task, but worth exploring. I believe that West Ponce used to be a state route and the City was able to get it delisted.

Road diets have been shown to be a good way to improve safety outcomes for all street users, especially for people on foot, on bikes, and in wheelchairs, who are the most vulnerable users of our streets. They can also have a positive effect on an area’s economic growth. What are your thoughts on road diets in the city of Decatur?

Road diets can be an effective way of improving traffic flow, reducing accidents and improving pedestrian safety. However, road diets must be considered in the context of existing road conditions. For example, road diets are most effective along arterial roads that have few intersections with traffic signals. Studies have shown that road diets on streets with many signalized intersections can lead to excess queuing of cars due to the traffic signals, increasing congestion. While the impact can be mitigated by improved signal coordination, it still exists. Moreover, excess congestion can push traffic to cut-through more residential communities, which can negatively impact bicycle safety on those streets, especially for children and less-experienced cyclists.

Decatur already has instituted road diets along College, East Lake, West Ponce, Church and Commerce. I would recommend a traffic analysis to determine which are working and which may need changes to improve their effectiveness or reduce congestion. Lessons learned from this assessment would guide future decisions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in its 2018 report that humans have twelve years to make a series of urgent changes to phase out CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in order to forestall catastrophic consequences. What actions do you support in the City of Decatur to drastically decrease CO2 emissions? How do your transportation and mobility priorities support CO2 reduction?

I believe that climate change is a national security issue and the greatest challenge that human beings face. We will need national leadership, strategies and policies to successfully address the problem. The single most effective way that Decatur can combat climate change is to invest in our tree canopy. Trees will absorb significant amounts of CO2 while reducing the heat island effect (concrete jungles absorb heat and raise temperatures) and improving air quality.
It will be extremely difficult for the City of Decatur, acting alone, to reduce CO2 emissions related to transportation. That being said, investment in pedestrian and bike infrastructure that make it safer and more convenient for people to walk and bike should reduce vehicular trips and CO2 emissions. Maintaining and expanding retail within walking distance of people’s homes also should reduce vehicular trips. Making it easier for drivers to find parking also would reduce CO2 emissions, as the sooner they find parking, the sooner they get out of their cars.

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