A $7 million Sixth Avenue streetscape proposal would limit access at several intersections and reduce center-lane turn locations while improving road safety, downtown walkability and visitors’ first impression of Decatur, plan advocates say.
The proposal for a 1-mile section of Sixth Avenue, from Wilson Street Northeast to Prospect Drive Southeast, would replace much of the center turn lane with a landscaped median and would revamp the appearance along the sides of the street. The plan also would eliminate two sets of traffic signals and change traffic flow around Delano Park to one way.
Consultants Bryan Bays and Jay Dickson, of Volkert Inc. presented the plan to the Decatur City Council during a work session last week.
Dickson estimated the plan, which was funded mostly by the Alabama Department of Transportation and has already been presented to its officials, would cost roughly $7 million and take roughly two years to complete.
Stratton Orr, chairman of a Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce residential committee, introduced the Volkert officials. He said his committee has been working on this plan for two years because several developers said Decatur needs to beautify the entrance into city on the northern end of Sixth Avenue.
“We really wanted to know what it would take to increase investment (from residential developers), and they said we need to improve the first impression of our city,” Orr said.
Orr said north Alabama is experiencing dramatic growth and Decatur “needs to win the effort” to attract newcomers and keep current residents from leaving.
Councilman Billy Jackson said it’s an expensive plan that addresses the desires of a “special interest group that’s requesting this.” He said there are many other situations, like flooding and homelessness, that the city needs to address.
“There are so many pressing issues,” Jackson said. “This is not going to actually make people move to our city.”
The proposal is in Councilman Kyle Pike’s District 2, and he said the cost is high but worth it. He said he looks forward to hearing public input.
“The overall plan is like a handshake and a smile when you meet somebody for the first time. You want to make a good impression,” Pike said.
One Decatur issue
Planning Commission Chairman Kent Lawrence said the need to beautify the Sixth Avenue (U.S. 31) entrance into the city was the top demand of the close to 1,000 city residents who participated in the creation of the One Decatur comprehensive plan.
Councilman Jacob Ladner said the city hasn’t seen growth in 30 years and this is something people all over the city want.
“This is a citywide issue,” Ladner said. “I had people in my District 5, on the other side of the city, tell me during the (election) campaign (last summer) that this should be a priority.”
The proposal calls for major improvements to the Lee Street Northeast intersection to create a better connection with downtown. The possible improvements include pavers, a painted intersection and a brick sign.
Bays said the brick sign would not be in the state right of way, but Councilman Carlton McMasters, who said he supports the plan, expressed doubt on whether the brick sign is a good idea because of the safety concerns if it's hit in a wreck.
Bays said hearty plants requiring as little upkeep as possible would be used to landscape the median replacing much of the Sixth Avenue center turn lane.
He said the median could include some small trees but they have to meet ALDOT requirements that they break away easily in a wreck.
Along the sides of the highway there would be some trees in addition to landscaping and shorter traffic lights, but Bays said there are some places where the business owner would have to be willing to allow the city to plant the vegetation.
The sidewalks would be expanded by 3 feet where possible to 8 feet to make walkers feel safer, Bays said.
Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said last week he is still waiting on an estimate from a city contractor on the upkeep and cleanup costs of the landscaping.
Access between Sixth Avenue and seven streets would be limited under the plan. On the west side of Sixth Avenue, Lafayette, Vine and Walnut streets would be blocked off.
Four other streets — Johnston, Jackson, Sherman and Cherry — along with the east side of Lafayette would be impacted by the new median. Motorists on those streets could still turn right but would no longer be able to turn left onto Sixth Avenue. Motorists on Sixth Avenue would be able to make right turns onto those streets but no longer could make left turns onto them from the center lane.
Vehicles on those side streets "will have to turn right and go to the next light and make a U-turn, or use one of the roads in the neighborhood to go to a street (like Grant or East Moulton) that has a traffic light to turn left (onto Sixth),” Dickson said.
Traffic signals on Sixth Avenue at Jackson and Johnston streets would be eliminated. Signals also could be modified at Prospect and Gordon if those two streets become one way around Delano Park.
Beth Weinbaum, who lives in the 600 block of Jackson Street, said, “It’s going to be a change” but she feels the altered traffic flow is something the neighborhood can adjust to if it occurs.
Nell Standridge, who lives in the 800 block of Jackson Street Northeast, said blocking off her street’s left turn won’t impact her.
“We avoid the Jackson Street traffic light (to travel south) whenever possible because it’s so slow,” Standridge said.
Neighbor Betty Wascom said some people will have to adjust but the city desperately needs to improve the appearance of Sixth Avenue because it is a major corridor of Decatur.
Wascom suggested a start would be to get rid of three old homes on Sherman and two on Jackson near Sixth Avenue that “are a serious eyesore.”
Wascom said several businesses in the section from Wilson to Lee streets need major beautification efforts.
“It doesn’t take much,” Wascom said. “A convenience store just added some planters and it looks great.”
Orr said he believes the public funding of municipal improvements and beautification make private citizens and business owners willing to spend on their own beautification improvements.
He said Second Avenue’s improvements are an example of this public-private improvement partnership.
Another major change in the plan would make Prospect Drive one-way headed east and Gordon Drive one-way headed west on the Delano Park side of Sixth Avenue.
Dickson said the Gordon and Prospect traffic lights are too close together on Sixth Avenue so the change would help traffic flow and safety.
Bays said Volkert officials, Orr and Decatur City Schools officials, including Deputy Superintendent Dwight Satterfield, met to discuss the change. Satterfield said he presented the proposal to the school board and it was willing to consider the change.
“I’m not saying I support it, but it does work better for the school (Decatur Junior High) if traffic flows counterclockwise,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield said the school doesn’t allow parents to drop off or pick up students on the busy Prospect Drive. They have to use the alley to the back of the school for drop-off or pickup before and after school or athletic events.
Birmingham-based Volkert is receiving $100,000 for developing the plan. A grant from ALDOT is paying $80,000 of that cost, with local entities providing the $20,000 match. The Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority is paying $10,000 of the plan cost, with the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the city each paying $5,000.