Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The state agency reviewing a traffic study for the new Atlanta Braves stadium says improvements are needed to make walking around the ballpark safer --- and to keep pedestrians from impeding traffic in or out of the site.
The report from the Georgia Regional Transit Authority, which must review traffic plans for all major developments, says "there is not consistent and safe pedestrian access" from areas where off-site parking could be located.
"The impact of pedestrian crossings is of concern for safe and efficient roadway operations and pedestrian safety," according to the report. It goes on to say that pedestrian needs should be addressed along all roads fronting the 50-acre site, new roads planned for inside the site and on roads leading from off-site parking areas.
A spokeswoman for the Braves said they will work with the county to provide appropriate pedestrian access.
The authority is reviewing a traffic study submitted by the team in May and is expected to make a final decision on whether to approve the project June 18.
GRTA staff has recommended approving the Braves' plan, but is asking for improvements for pedestrians, intersections and roads.
It is unclear how much the improvements would cost, or who will pay for them.
Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall declined to "speculate on the financial arrangement" because it is "undetermined at this time what improvements are required."
The pedestrian improvements could be as simple as adding sidewalks, crossing signals and crosswalks --- although the report did mention a multimillion-dollar pedestrian-transit bridge over Interstate 285 that would "reduce pedestrian travel distances from (Cobb Galleria Centre) parking to the proposed stadium."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that the future of the bridge is now in question, as cost estimates have risen to $9 million from the initial estimate of $3.5 million.
Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo previously told the AJC that the $9 million estimate is based on the bridge's "concept" and that it will be further adjusted as the design solidifies.
DiMassimo has said the county will seek federal grants to help fund it.
The Braves said the pedestrian bridge is a "work in progress" in terms of its design and viability.
Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the Cumberland Mall area where the Braves development is proposed, said there won't be a decision on the bridge anytime soon.
"Two components of the bridge that have to be resolved: its location and who is going to pay for it," Ott said. "I have not heard news on either one of those."
The $622 million stadium near the intersection of interstates 75 and 285 is fronted by Cobb, Windy Ridge and Circle 75 parkways.
The Braves say they will also build a $400 million mixed-use community of bars, restaurants, offices, housing and a hotel on the site.
Sally Flocks, president and chief executive of PEDS, an advocacy group for walkable communities, said the area poses a triple-threat to walkers: a lot of fast traffic, wide roads and infrequent crossings.
"I am really thrilled they want to make that a more mixed-use area," said Flocks. "But if you're going to have a place with high density, it's going to thrive a lot more as an area that's really welcoming to pedestrians."
Cobb officials say they will develop a pedestrian safety plan upon completion of the site design and parking locations.
The challenge of making the area pedestrian-friendly is daunting because it was never intended to be a walkable environment, said Cumberland Community Improvement District Chairman Tad Leithead. Most of the office and retail developments are self-contained, he said.
The CID and the county have been working for more than a decade to add sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements, Leithead said.
But there's still a long way to go.
For example, people who want to take a bus to the stadium face a treacherous journey.
The nearest stop is on the other side of Cumberland Mall from the Braves stadium.
That means a mile-long walk --- past the mall, across Cobb Parkway and then along that thoroughfare as it continues under I-285, where there is currently no sidewalk, Leithead said.
"Pedestrian activity in that area has not been encouraged in the past," Leithead said. "That's one of the issues that's got to be addressed."
The CID has pledged $10 million toward improvements around the ballpark site.
The Atlanta Regional Commission is conducting a simultaneous review of the Braves project and will make their decision at around the same time.
ARC's review is broader and takes into account a project's impact on the surrounding environment and watershed.
Cobb County has final say on the Braves' pending rezoning request.
If county leaders reject a GRTA decision, they lose the ability to get federal or state funding for transportation projects in the area. But if county commissioners overturn the GRTA decision with a three-quarter majority vote, the funding consequences are lifted, said GRTA Executive Director Kirk Fjelstul.
The stadium is set to open in 2017.
The story so far
- The Braves submitted a traffic study to the Georgia Regional Transit Authority and Atlanta Regional Commission on May 19. The two agencies are assessing the development because it is so large it will have regional impact.
- A staff report from GRTA summarized recommendations to improve safety and accessibility around the stadium late Monday, including adding more sidewalks, signals and crosswalks for pedestrians. The report recommended the project be approved with conditions.
- A staff report from ARC is expected today, which will highlight not just traffic and transportation issues but environmental impacts.
- A final decision from GRTA Executive Director Kirk Fjelstul will be issued June 18, and ARC's report will come out around the same time. The two agencies can either deny the project, approve it, or approve it with conditions.
Road Work Ahead
In addition to pedestrian improvements, the following roadway intersection improvements were recommended:
- Cobb Parkway and I-285 Eastbound ramps: Provide an additional eastbound right-turn lane.
- Cobb Parkway and I-285 Wesbound ramps: Provide an additional westbound right-turn lane with a traffic signal; provide an additional northbound receiving lane on Cobb Parkway to allow for free-flowing right turns onto the stadium site.
- Cobb Parkway and Circle 75 Parkway: Restripe the existing eastbound lane currently used for either turning left or continuing straight to make it a lane exclusively for continuing straight. Install an additional northbound right-turn lane on Cobb Parkway. Provide an additional eastbound receiving lane to allow northbound drivers to make free-flowing right turns into the site.
- Cumberland Boulevard and Spring Road: Install a minor signal improvement (a southbound right-turn arrow).
- Cobb Parkway and Windy Ridge Parkway: Extend the southbound left-turn lane at least 300 feet and install a minor traffic signal improvement (an eastbound right-turn arrow).
- The above-listed recommendations are still subject to being changed up until the final decision.
Source: Georgia Regional Transit Authority staff report and recommendations for Atlanta Braves stadium.