July 27, 2014

Forest Drive traffic study to address congestion, safety

Suburban Forest Acres is embarking on a traffic study of Forest Drive this fall to figure out how to make its “main street” safe and inviting.

Suburban Forest Acres is embarking on a traffic study of Forest Drive this fall to figure out how to make its “main street” safe and inviting.

The $125,000 study by the Boudreaux Group will explore ways to ease congestion along the five-lane corridor while making it more attractive and accommodating for people who walk and bicycle, Councilwoman Ginger Dukes said.

“This is a long-term process,” she said.

Widening Forest Drive is considered impractical and probably wouldn’t be considered, city manager Mark Williams said.

But Dukes said two suggestions she expects to hear from residents are burying power lines and installing planted medians.

Dukes said the time is right to look at Forest Drive traffic for several reasons:

• The private Cardinal Newman High School will be moving from the busy commercial thoroughfare, leaving behind a 12- to 13-acre tract to be redeveloped.
• The introduction of new stores like Trader Joe’s and the upscale shops congregating at Trenholm Plaza means the area has become more of a shopping destination.
• The suburban community is attracting more young families – parents who want to walk their children to school or bicycle to nearby grocery stores and restaurants.

The process will begin by gathering with residents to see what they want. Meetings have not yet been scheduled.

It will conclude with a report in April, with the goal being to develop a set of recommendations that could be accomplished over the years. The city likely would fund improvements with proceeds from the restaurant tax as well as grants, Dukes said.

The idea of a traffic study grew out of conversations among members of the city’s appearance commission.

Irene Dumas Tyson, a planner with the Boudreaux Group who lives in Forest Acres, said it should be easier for people to walk among their destinations. “We have just a great community, such strong schools and such strong neighborhoods, and that’s one of those elements that’s missing to make it perfect.”

The last thing the community would want is for people to start avoiding Forest Drive because it’s too difficult to travel, she and others said.

Frank Dropla, president of the Forest Acres Neighborhood Association, said the study seems like a good idea.

“Trying to get on and off Forest Drive where there’s no stop light can be a little frustrating, and you try and take a chance you shouldn’t take,” Dropla said. “Safety is an issue.”

Dropla rides a motorcycle, and said traffic moves too fast. On the other hand, traffic can get backed up at major intersections at Beltline Boulevard and Trenholm Roads. On Friday evenings, traffic can come to a standstill.

The study area runs along Forest Drive from Glenwood Road to Interstate 77, which extends beyond the city limits into Columbia.

Dukes said people view congestion along Forest Drive as a quality-of-life issue that needs addressing. “When you ask people what’s the most important thing they see going on in Forest Acres, it’s the traffic problem,” she said.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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