Downtown Crabapple sign

MILTON, Ga. —  Several developments coming out of the ground have transformed downtown Crabapple, but the changes may not all be spurred by the business community. At its Dec. 14 work session, the Milton City Council discussed pedestrian and streetscape improvements for a stretch of Crabapple Road in the heart of downtown.

Unlike other road improvements nearby, including the Charlotte Drive extension and Birmingham Highway roundabouts, the city is handcuffed in its options because it is a state route, meaning any proposed upgrades would require GDOT’s seal of approval.

City officials have met with the state agency and proposed several changes to the stretch of road between Heritage Walk and Birmingham Highway, but the city and GDOT are not seeing eye-to-eye on all issues.

Sara Leaders, Milton transportation engineer, said GDOT is on board with several proposals that could reduce speeds, improve walkability and enhance the area’s appearance. Those suggestions include reducing the width of lanes, which can naturally cut down on speeds, adding a center median, pedestrian crossing and a bike lane and reducing the roadway from three to two lanes while repurposing the turn lanes.

However, GDOT took issues with the city’s proposal for on-street parking and reducing the speed limit from 35 mph.

City Manager Steve Krokoff said he was a strong proponent for both measures because traffic speeds on the road create an uncrossable “river,” and people are afraid to attempt it.

“It’s a real hinderance to our downtown,” he said. “It’s not conducive to what we are trying to create.”

Leaders said GDOT is unlikely to lower the speed limit because of the way it determines whether to act, studying the rate of speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers travel on a certain road.

Studying speeds now would be unlikely to yield an 85th percentile figure below 35 mph, but Krokoff and Leaders said the city can take other measures to naturally slow speeds, like narrowing lanes and providing on-street parking.

Another avenue Milton could take is gaining creative control over the downtown portion of Crabapple Road. The city could propose shifting the state route to Heritage Walk at its intersection with Crabapple Road. Doing that would allow the city to make improvements without GDOT looking over its shoulder. But that’s not as easy as slapping the state route designation on Heritage Walk.

Leaders said the city would have to ensure Heritage Walk conformed to GDOT’s pavement conditions and truck capacity. More importantly, the city would have to remove the raised sidewalks it recently installed. That last snag gave some council members heartburn.

City Councilman Paul Moore said the city has been successful in creating walkability along the roadway, connecting Crabapple Market, The Green and City Hall. He said it would be a “shame” to potentially compromise the pedestrian-friendly area with a state route designation.

Mayor Joe Lockwood said there are more and more pedestrians walking in the area, and he wanted to make sure the city is not fixing Crabapple’s walkability at the sake of Heritage Walk.

Jennifer Harper, a representative with engineering and planning firm Clark Patterson Lee, which the city contracted to study the area, told council members the city will need to decide how it wants to approach GDOT. That could either be going forward with a plan that only includes the road updates the department favors, or a proposal to include on-street parking and a lower speed limit.

City officials are expected to meet further with GDOT to determine which measures can be pursued.

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