This isn’t just a matter of sprucing up Johnson Ferry Road. This is a potential turning point for the soul of Cobb County.
The public involvement portion of the project began in 2010. More than 100 people took part in a series of meetings. However, a carefully selected steering committee of 18 people had the most influence. Several documents were produced, including notes from the various meetings and six or seven individual documents that outline the resulting plan. I’ve invested significant time reading and re-reading to grasp what might happen to Johnson Ferry.
HERE are two quotes from plan documents that will tell us that perhaps something went wrong:
• In the beginning: “The main goal of the plan is to improve the visual aesthetics and the quality of life along the corridor while maintaining its unique character.”
• The Outcome: “An outcome of the planning process was a community based vision of a well-designed, healthy and complete corridor that is pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented.”
Those descriptions could not be more contradictory. This is the start of changing “Suburban Cobb County” into “Cobb Urban Paradise.” Urban planners everywhere will celebrate.
IN ONE of the early meetings, participants identified the strengths and weaknesses of the Johnson Ferry corridor. From the meeting notes, the list of weaknesses provides insight into the thinking of the participants. Some of the more remarkable “weaknesses” that were identified were:
• Not enough “sit-down” restaurants.
• This area of the county is not a “walking community.”
• Sidewalks are too narrow.
• No bike lanes along the entire corridor.
• Traffic signals are not “color coordinated” and do not match from one to the next.
• Traffic is too fast on Johnson Ferry.
• Too much through traffic on Johnson Ferry.
• Lack of apartments and multi-family housing.
• Too many banks.
• Johnson Ferry Baptist Church is too big, looks like “a huge mansion.”
What must we think of an assessment that considers a prominent and architecturally beautiful church as a “weakness” in the community? Is it believable that this plan reflects the views of the east Cobb community when the lack of apartments is considered a weakness?
Some of the possible “improvements” suggested for the corridor include:
• A trolley line to transport people around the area and link to the Cumberland and Perimeter CIDs
• More bus stops with bus/trolley stops in the median, and pedestrian-actuated signals to stop traffic so pedestrians can reach the median-based bus stops. (CCT bus service along this corridor has since been canceled due to lack of users.)
• Reduce traffic lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet.
• Add bike lanes everywhere.
The actual plan includes sidewalks six feet in width, bike lanes and trails everywhere, “multi-user trails” along Johnson Ferry and other roads, green spaces separating paved surfaces, “furniture rows,” and “buffer strips.”
In most areas, the medians would be made wider by several feet with added landscaping. Of the existing three lanes in each direction, some sections of Johnson Ferry would get “slip lanes,” eliminating one third of the current road capacity for normal traffic.
HOW DO all these new features fit into the available space? Answer: they don’t. More public Right of Way is needed. As much as 59 feet of added width is called for, property that the county would have to “acquire” from current owners at taxpayer expense. Note that the added ROW does not provide for a wider road surface, only for the added “features.” The road surface would be reduced in width, typically from the current 12-foot lane width to 11-foot lanes.
MANY features included in the plan will inhibit existing automobile traffic. It has been said that this plan represents the preferences of the majority of the people of east Cobb. Factually, most people in east Cobb have no idea this plan even exists. Most are shocked when they learn any specifics.
It should also be mentioned that it has been approved by the Commissioners with never a word said about what the eventual cost to county taxpayers might be.
The ultimate goal of this plan, as stated by its title, is to urbanize Cobb County. That is not a goal I share and I doubt if many others share it. If I want to live “urban,” I’ll move to “urban.”
Let’s accept the charmed and charming community we have and abandon this bad dream of becoming “Manhattan South.”
Larry Savage of east Cobb is a retired businessman and ran unsuccessfully in 2012 for Cobb Commission chairman.