At-Large Candidate Ratings and Responses

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

Tony Powers

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 am not a everyday bike rider due to my schedule. I have occasionally ridden downtown and to my business on Scott Blvd. Biking downtown will be much safer as the completion of the cycle track infrastructure goes online later this year. As we complete the network, novice cyclists, walkers, and mobility-challenged individuals will have much needed protection from our vehicular traffic.

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?

Yes, I supported the adoption of our transportation plan and support taking steps to achieve a Vision Zero adaptation. One of the tools that could be available in its implementation is a city-wide reduction in speed limits. Studies show that the probability of serious or fatal injuries are greatly reduced at lower speeds.
The is also more money budgeted for additional sidewalks. I’m concerned about the corridor leading to Talley St school. I believe a large piece of the budget will address that area.

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?

As we continue to make our city safer, I believe every option available to us is worth pursuing. It’s a very ambitious plan and is going to require significant public engagement as well as seeking partners to fund the plan. I believe that all individuals in the city that want to see more steps taken should definitely plan to participate in the 2020 Strategic Plan. Many of the projects that are underway or already completed were points of emphasis in the 2010 plan.

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?

Parking has been and continues to be a delicate balance in the city. While the research shows there is ample supply, the perception is quite the opposite. I’m definitely in favor of having a system that is user friendly for people looking to park. I would like to look at the success rates of these other municipalities and see how similar they are to Decatur and have a firm understanding of the positive and negative impacts of removing this requirement. We have a benchmark report that we get from our peers cities every year. Perhaps, this could be an additional group of questions from cities very similar to Decatur.

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?

See question two. I think the continued engagement with GDOT has started to yield positive results for Decatur. There is no reason to believe further collaboration will not happen.

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?

We have applied a number of them to improve safety throughout the city. I think the message gets Lost on commuters that may only use Decatur to bypass congestion in the city. The other area that we will have to monitor is the ability of our emergency services and first responders to adequately handle calls.

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 would like to see a phase in of electric/hybrid vehicles as we replace gas units in our fleet. The city has also implemented high performance building standards in the Unified Development Ordinance. These standards improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce help reduce emissions. I have made a conscious effort to live close to work and reduce the amount of time needed in my car. Our family uses Marta frequently and ride share to be more efficient.

 

Chris Gagnon

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?

We live on West Howard.  We walk downtown, to our local restaurants and to Oakhurst.  Our kids walk to DHS and Renfroe.  We are more foot-powered than pedal-powered these days, although I have a beautiful pre-2006 Kelly that’s dying to get back on the road.  My wife and I generally work from home, so we don’t commute by car often.

I believe we need a balanced approach that expands sidewalks and lane buffers on the streets.  I believe we need to focus more on adjoining land rather than cutting lanes and lane width.  An approach that increases car traffic generally creates frustrated drivers, drivers using residential streets as cut-throughs and unpredictable poor driving.  In the aggregate this tends to make pedestrians and cyclists less safe.

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 data-driven policy across the board so Vision Zero makes sense to me.  My understanding is that Scott and North Decatur are the streets with the most enforceable speeding violations.  As with everything in life nothing works in a vacuum.  Decatur has limited ability to lower speeds and in many cases to even enforce the existing speed limits.  The only way to achieve Vision Zero is to work with neighboring municipalities, Dekalb County and the Georgia DOT to make fundamental changes to the traffic flow on a multi-jurisdictional basis.  This won’t be an easy or quick fix.

If we want these hotspots to calm we need to change our policy priority to shift funds to public safety.  Increased enforcement of traffic is controllable directly by our city commission; however we would need more enforcement officers in place.

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 this direction but would stress that it cannot come solely at the cost of car traffic flow.  Shrinking our city streets while shifting towards a commerce-centric budget is counter-intuitive.  If people are to shop here, they need to be able to get here.  Decatur’s population alone will not support the skyrocketing commercial density development that’s coming our way.  We need creative ideas to use non-street land to increase safe biking and pedestrian paths.

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?

From my initial research and very basic understanding of parking minimums I’m not opposed to their removal.  I would like to see more data to build a deeper understanding of the potential issues this might bring.  From my perspective this simply removes a regulated requirement so businesses like Kroger can make their own determination as to their parking needs.  I’m generally a free-market capitalist and support letting market forces prevail for businesses.

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?

We can continue to work directly with them to adjust speed limits; however the decision is ultimately theirs.  It’s also my understanding that we can post any speed we want, we just can’t enforce those speeds.  There are many streets in Decatur where traffic enforcement is already impeded by state regulation.  I don’t see why we wouldn’t post West Howard at 30MPH for example even if we can’t issue a citation for it.  The signs would likely have some effect on drivers.  This is no different from parking a police car near a high traffic intersection.

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? 

Our road diets have been ineffective.  Traffic has increased dramatically on all major inlets to the city.  Some of this appears due to very short turn lanes and other places where lanes were squeezed together or made too narrow.  To be effective we need to slow down the process and assure that we are properly providing for the needs of cars.  On West Howard, where I live, the cars fly down at the same speeds but are now shoved closer to the homes and the north sidewalk.  If we had reduced the lanes, slid them to the center and created a buffer for both sides we would have created a safer outcome.  I believe our city is rushing forward without fulling assessing all options on the table.  I support road diets, but they must be planned and executed thoughtfully.

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?

The cost of living in Decatur now virtually requires two incomes per family, both at or near 6-figures.  These jobs usually require two people per household to drive elsewhere.  Very few people hold high-earning positions within a 5-mile radius.  Marta is sometimes an option but only in minimal cases.  So, we are in an economic reality that is at odds with our ideals.  The nature of our village structure naturally encourages walking and cycling within the city, but we live in Georgia where it’s brutally hot during the summer and it rains so there is very little chance we will remove cars from our daily lives.

The number one way Decatur can support the reduction of CO2 is to strengthen the tree ordinance.  Our loss of tree canopy has a direct and local effect on our air quality.  Also, if we focus our policy priority on keeping our residents local by reducing the cost of living and encouraging responsible commercial growth that provides better local jobs we can reduce the need for driving.  As I mentioned  earlier my wife and I usually telecommute.  We rarely drive our cars.  Most people don’t have this option.  If we can help our residents create this reality, we will see a reduction in our emissions.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s