Planned trail to offer new options for cyclists, pedestrians

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Aug. 28, 2017

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The newest section of the South Peachtree Creek Trail, from Mason Mill to North Druid Hills at Spring Creek Road, celebrated its grand opening this summer. An upcoming section would connect Mason Mill Park to Emory's Clairmont Campus, opening up new commuting and recreation options for the Emory community. Emory Photo/Video

Plans to develop a new bicycle/pedestrian trail that would link Emory’s Clairmont Campus to Mason Mill Park — and points beyond — are rolling forward, according to the PATH Foundation, an Atlanta nonprofit dedicated to developing public greenway trails.

In fact, by this time next year, PATH Foundation Executive Director Ed McBrayer says he fully expects to see the trail completed, opening up new campus commute options to northeastern DeKalb County residents.

“We have a design done and have the plans in for permitting,” McBrayer says. “It looks promising that we will have a trail from Mason Mill Park to the Emory campus during 2018.”

Plans call for a 12-foot-wide trail to run from the Mason Mill Tennis Center and cross under busy Clairmont Road, ending just inside the front gate at Emory’s Clairmont Campus. Cyclists and pedestrians would then be able to follow traffic-restricted Starvine Way onto Emory’s main campus.

The new stretch of public paths would be part of the South Peachtree Creek Trail, a system of bicycle/pedestrian pathways and forest boardwalks that currently extends from Medlock Park to Mason Mill Park and up to North Druid Hills Road. The trail's newest section, from Mason Mill to North Druid Hills at Spring Creek Road, celebrated its grand opening this summer.

The overall plan fits with Emory's new 2025 Sustainability Vision, which calls for enhanced opportunities for safe biking and walking on campus and to surrounding trail networks, says Ciannat Howett, Emory director of sustainability initiatives.

“The new PATH Foundation trail brings its robust trail systems to Emory's gates and is an exciting next step in fulfilling our vision," she says.

Since last winter, a working group composed of faculty, staff, students and representatives of DeKalb County, the city of Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and nonprofit bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups have been meeting to examine bike and pedestrian connectivity across the Emory campus and identify future steps, Howett notes.

"The new 2025 Sustainability Vision also commits Emory to exploring options for an on-campus Emory trail network similar to the Atlanta Beltline that can, over the next decade, link to existing and proposed off-campus trail networks,” she says.

“We see the new PATH Foundation trail as an important link in that bigger vision for Emory."

Creating a critical connection

For Emory cyclists, pedestrians and joggers, the project will offer “a critical new connection,” says Jamie Smith, chief performance officer and senior director for finance operations and a spokesperson for Bike Emory, a bicycle advocacy organization.

“This trail has the potential to offer the biggest impact for cyclists — in terms of both infrastructure and safety — that I’ve seen at Emory in the past decade,” says Smith.

“Not to take anything away from the work that’s been done already, but if we really want to get people riding bikes we have to give them a safe place to ride. And the safest place to ride is a dedicated pathway that is away from cars,” he says.

The generous width of the trail should permit multiple uses. “It will provide plenty of room for people to run, ride or walk comfortably,” Smith says. “Outside of the commuting aspect, it’s a wonderful recreation source for people who live and work around Emory — it really opens up some new opportunities. I could not be more excited.”

Recent traffic counts have indicated that more than 100 Emory and CDC employees already commute daily through the Starvine/Clairmont intersection, according to Smith.

“For those who work at Emory and the CDC, it’s a key connection,” he says. “We also know there is a significant number of Emory employees who live within reach of South Peachtree Creek Trail — the demand is there.”

The new trail also has the potential to make bicycle commuting to work a safer, more reasonable option in the face of growing traffic congestion in the area — a commute alternative with the potential to help shrink the number of cars fighting their way to campus while helping those who seek a healthy commute alternative.

“I think it will take a substantial number of cars off the road,” predicts McBrayer.

Exploring a vision for the future

The PATH Foundation eventually would like to create a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian trail that links Emory to the Freedom Park Trail and the Atlanta BeltLine via Emory Village.

“There are many different possibilities we can look at over time,” Smith acknowledges. “Once we have this project in place, there are all kinds of connection opportunities you can build upon, once you have a network of trails.

“With more faculty, staff and students choosing to live in the City of Atlanta than we’ve seen in the last 20 years, that’s important to us,” he adds. “But that future connection will have to be a community-driven process.”

The PATH Foundation partners with communities to create off-road pathways. To date, PATH has created 265 miles of traffic-free trails throughout metro-Atlanta and other communities in Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Emory is a financial contributor to the proposed trail project to campus, notes McBrayer.