This is a question I hear a lot in local advocacy. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this might actually be a good weekly discussion, addressing roads that this question hits often.
Usually, the answer is pretty straightforward, but after a couple of conversations with local law enforcement, it has become evident that straightforward is not necessarily obvious. As a cyclist myself, I find that I have explored almost every road in the areas I travel through, however, many, perhaps even most, drivers do not explore. They know one way, one road, and do not stray. When a road is closed by law enforcement for whatever reason, even law enforcement struggles to get these drivers to understand that there are alternate routes.
In the case of choosing a road to take a bike ride down, it is normal to evaluate the alternatives to find the safest, and lowest impact upon traffic routes. Then once a particular road is ridden enough, it becomes a preferred route by more and more riders, to the point that we have tools available to us that show exactly what roads are heavily used by other cyclists. The picture at the head of this article is from one of them.
This week, let us discuss one that is a near constant discussion point, and as It straddles a county line, and provides connectivity to a third county, it is one that two different governing bodies hear about.
Campground Rd between Hopewell Rd and Highway 9
This is arguably the single most heavily travelled road by cyclists in the north Fulton, south Forsyth, east Cherokee area. Why is that? The answer is, origin, destination and alternatives.
Most of the rides in the area that use this corridor start in either downtown Alpharetta or south Forsyth.
These rides travel a minimum of 30 miles, and many of them cover 60+ miles, which rules out any ‘greenway’ system in the region, and as such the rides typically work their way out to more rural, open roads to minimize the impacts upon traffic. In the case of most of these rides, that means getting out to east Cherokee, or north Forsyth ( and many times beyond both of those ).
Looking at the options for transit to and from the origins to the destinations, there are limited number of potential north and south corridors to connect these points. When evaluating those alternatives, there are some basic criteria.
- Ambient traffic – we try to avoid the heavier trafficked roads
- Sight lines – we try to avoid excessively curvy or hilly roads
- Conflict point – we try to minimize the number of stop lights and red lights, as these are the highest risk areas
- Elevation Gain – we try to avoid step inclines on busier roads as it creates a greater speed differential and higher conflict
With that criteria in mind, evaluating the alternatives, from East to West.
Four lane, divided parkway, 45 mph speed limit, high volume, no bike lanes, no shoulders. Ambient speeds well above posted limits. 7.6 miles with 400+ feet of elevation gain. Good sight lines, but the speeds and volume make it high risk.
Two lane road, 45 mph speed limit, extremely high volume, no bike lanes, inconsistent shoulders. Ambient speeds either well above posted, or well below. Exceptionally sensitive to peak use volumes. 7 miles, 450 feet of elevation gain. Mixed sight lines, but speeds and volume make it high conflict.
Two lane road, 45 mph speed limit, lowest volume of the alternatives, no bike lanes, limited shoulders, ambient speeds slightly above posted. Relatively consistent despite peak use times. 4.1 mile, 100 feet of elevation gain. Mostly good sight lines. Generally low conflict area. Signed with bicycle friendly signage.
Two lane road, mixed 35-45 mph speed limits. Highest volume ( core north/south corridor for Cherokee residents to GA-400 ). Ambient speeds at or above posted. Extreme variations with peak usage. 8.8 miles, 650 feet of elevation gain. No bikes lanes, no shoulder. Extremely poor sight lines. Multiple inclines with gradients above 5%. Untenable.
Freemanville Rd – Wilkie Rd
Two lane, 45 mph speed limit. Moderate volume. Ambient speeds above posted. Moderate peak use impacts. 9.8 miles 700 feet of elevation gain. No bike lanes, limited shoulder. Generally good sight lines. Some steep inclines, mostly below 3% grade. Second best option, often used in conjunction with Campground one as out and other as return.
Birmingham Highway / Highway 372
Two lane, 45 mph speed limit. High volume. Ambient speeds well above posted. No bike lanes. Shoulders present but unusable due to rumble strips installed to assist drivers with staying in the lane. Mostly poor sight lines. Peak usage fluctuates heavily. 10.8 miles 700 feet of elevation gain. Generally avoided due to speed, rumble strips and poor sight lines.
Looking at the available alternatives, Campground Rd is the lowest impact upon the other road users, and it is often connected to the second best option in order to limit the exposure of out and back on the same route. Because of this, many groups will use this same corridor, as well as many individuals, use Campground as the safest and lowest impact corridor to go to and from Cherokee and north Forsyth areas. All with design and intent to mitigate and limit the impacts upon other road users.
Hope this helps, and in the future I will tackle some similar roads in the areas. ( Arbor Hill, Trinity Church, Lower Birmingham, for example ).