By Dan Klepal, ajc.com staff writer
Eighteen months before the first pitch in SunTrust Park, Cobb County has hired a firm to come up with ideas to make it easier — and safer — for people to walk around the congested Cumberland area.
The primary purpose of the $205,800 study is to suggest ways to keep fans safe as they walk to SunTrust Park, but it will also look at connectivity of other mixed-use and residential developments being built in the area.
Faye DiMassimo, the county’s transportation director, said the study is being funded with special purpose sales tax revenue.
An Alpharetta company, Gresham, Smith and Partners, will perform the study, which calls for a survey of sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signalization and raised medians in the area by the end of the year.
The company also is being paid to review projects already planned, model game day pedestrian movement, perform a parking analysis next year, and come up with a game-day operations concept that will cover signal timing changes, intersection crossing strategies, signal equipment upgrades, pedestrian ramp upgrades “and other strategies to improve pedestrian travel and safety in the study area.”
“The parties agree that time is of the essence,” the contract says.
DiMassimo said through email that the timing of the study “falls within the time frame that will provide results” so that projects can be completed before the stadium opens. DiMassimo would only answer questions submitted in writing through email.
The Braves are not involved with the study, but support it.
“…We believe that pedestrian safety is vital to every resident and business in the Cumberland area,” says a statement issued through a team spokeswoman. “…There are more people and businesses relocating to the Cumberland area every day and we welcome any study that looks to enhance safety and walkability.”
Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents Cumberland, successfully argued to expand the study area to include an area south of Akers Mill Road, where 1,500 residential units are under construction.
Ott told the AJC that he didn’t want the study just to focus on the ballpark area.
“SunTrust Park is … a vital component to the study, but it’s not the only game in town,” Ott said. “I’ve got $400-$500 million in [additional] development going on in that area right now. It’s the county’s responsibility to deal with the infrastructure related to that growth.
“SunTrust Park will have specific needs on game days, in addition to what the Cumberland area needs every day.”
Commissioner Bob Weatherford said the study will also help the determine how best to operate a people-moving circulator bus system in the Cumberland area. The commission will vote on purchasing six new circulator buses Tuesday night, with 80 percent of the $3.3 million cost being covered by federal grants.
The commission has not yet approved creation of the circulator, which will cost about $2 million a year to operate and could be up and running by February 2017. County officials have said the circulator’s operational costs will be covered by a $3 per room hotel fee.
“We still need additional buses for our normal routes, so if the circulator isn’t approved, we can still use the buses somewhere else,” Weatherford said.
The pedestrian study is one of several going on in the area. The Galleria office complex has solicited a traffic study of the area that will be completed by the end of the year. And the Galleria Centre, which operates the convention and performing arts center across I-285 from the ballpark site, is performing a study of building a potential hotel on its property.