The public got a first look Tuesday at plans to narrow Laney-Walker Boulevard between 15th Street and R.A. Dent Boulevard to improve the safety of pedestrians crossing through the Georgia Regents University campus.
The proposal reduces the stretch of road from four lanes to two, adds six raised crosswalks and a series of chicanes – curves that will slow traffic and add to the aesthetic.
“In fun terms, it’s a road diet,” said Chris Mutter, the project manager for the HGOR landscape architects who created the design.
The narrowing of Laney-Walker through GRU was called “a compromise” by many at an open house at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, where plans were on display Tuesday. It is an alternative to GRU President Ricardo Azziz’s suggestion in 2010 to close the road completely, which some said would block access for residents who live in the historically black area.
“We were concerned there would be a disconnect by closing it, and it would close us off and hamper us,” said Scylance Scott, the executive director of Antioch Ministries, which is housed on Laney-Walker. “I think the two lanes are a compromise as opposed to closing it all together. For safety concerns, a narrow road works, and it keeps it open.”
Mutter said the proposal must be approved by the city’s engineering department, then the Augusta Commission. Construction could take four to six months.
All the design aspects were created with pedestrian safety in mind, Mutter said. The curves slow drivers and the raised crosswalks encourage cars to come almost to a stop.
With about 8,000 vehicles and 8,500 pedestrians traveling through the stretch each day, safety has become a focus. A 2011 Augusta Chronicle analysis showed eight pedestrians had been struck by vehicles since 1995 on the two-block section through campus.
Commissioner Alvin Mason said the proposal is a perfect balance of keeping access to the Laney-Walker neighborhood while addressing safety concerns.
“What you see here is an opportunity to keep the street open and have the foot traffic still going through,” he said.
Vanessa Merriweather, the owner of Sew Sister on Laney-Walker, said she wanted to see more statistical evidence of how a narrower road would calm traffic. She said hiring crossing guards and improving crosswalks would improve safety and keep the road the same.
“It’s like constricting a vein and expecting it to function better,” she said. “It was a lot of time and a lot of money for what? You narrowed the piece of road for (GRU), but what about the rest of the community?”