Storeowners angered by new downtown loading policy

By Lauren McDonald

Due to a new traffic law downtown, Jim Adams can no longer see Jackson Street out of his single storefront window for a majority of the day. Instead, he now stares at the side of a delivery truck.

Adams, owner of Adams Optics, said the newly painted loading zone for distributors is seven and a half feet from his store’s entrance.

“Number one, I can’t see out,” Adams said. “And number two, nobody can see in. And people will think we’re closed. I’m not happy at all.”

Adams is one of several storeowners on Jackson Street who feel that their businesses have been negatively and unfairly affected by the recently implemented loading zone ordinance downtown.

The new “center lane policy,” passed by the Athens-Clarke County unified government in December, has been in effect for four months.

According to the policy, it is now illegal for all delivery drivers to load or unload in the center lane of Clayton Street. These vehicles must park in the new loading zones painted on the north-south streets, such as Jackson Street.

The new policy has been delayed by the painting of the new loading zones, but storeowners have recently begun to notice the effects of the change.

And several wish they’d been consulted.

“I just can’t imagine what they were thinking,” Adams said. “Nobody from the city came into my office and discussed it with me, so I had no idea that this was coming about. When I questioned them, they said ‘Well it was in the paper.’ Well, who reads that sorry paper?”

Adams said only two parking spots were left in front of his store.

“If a car is parked there, somebody can see my store,” Adams said. “But if a beer truck, a UPS truck or FedEx truck is, nobody can see me at all.”

The Athens government passed the new policy as an attempt to address the ongoing issue of allowing stores downtown to receive deliveries, without the delivery trucks impeding traffic.

“Everybody knows downtown Athens is unique because it was built without alleys, so there’s not anywhere to put your trash, there’s not anywhere to accept deliveries,” said Pamela Thompson, director of the Athens Downtown Development

Authority. “So everybody knows you have to make accommodations to get goods into the businesses.”

In 2002, Mayor Nancy Denson attempted to address this issue by allowing delivery trucks to park in the center lanes of Clayton Street and Washington Street.

But while this policy appeased distributors, Athens drivers, pedestrians and some business owners were unsatisfied.

“The concern was that the delivery trucks, especially on Clayton, were creating a potential traffic hazard – because you have parking, a travel lane, then the delivery truck,” Thompson said.

Delivery trucks parked in the center lane also became an eyesore, she said.

“You lose some visibility, if they had an outdoor restaurant or café, when your view is of a delivery truck,” Thompson said. “For the retail stores, sometimes if you’re just window shopping, you may be on one side of the street, you look across the street and see a store that you want to go visit. But if there’s a delivery truck in the way, you wouldn’t see that window.”

So the Commission took the issue up again in 2014, with the help of Mayor Denson. They sat down in April to discuss a solution to this difficult problem.

Officials decided to create loading zones on the north-south streets, allowing the center lanes to be used only for traffic flow from noon to 3 a.m.

“We wanted to make sure that delivery drivers didn’t have to walk too far, so we just picked four businesses that seemed pretty far from the loading areas and measured that, to see that the farthest any one business would be from a loading zone was 162 feet,” Thompson said.

She said traffic downtown has improved since the policy went into effect.

“One reason we think it’s going to be successful is because we have created enough larger, longer loading zones on the north-south streets that weren’t there before,” Thompson said. “So we think we’ve provided enough alternate spaces to park to do your loading and unloading that it will be successful.”

Chris Stallings, director of sales and marketing at the beer distributor Leon Farmer and Company, said his deliverers have not faced any issues since the policy took effect.

“We haven’t run into anything that has prevented us from servicing our customers,” Stallings said. “But from a whether it’s positive or negative standpoint, it’s such a work in progress right now, that I really would hate to say anything positive or negative about it.”

Since the policy took effect, the ADDA has worked to educate the downtown community about the change, and for the first month they only gave warnings for those violating the new law.

“We gave to all the business owners the new ordinance, so that they could give it to all of their delivery drivers, because this applies to everyone – beer delivery, food delivery, linens, anything you’re getting,” Thompson said. “For about a month, we ticketed with warnings.”

But Adams said he never received this information.

Adams and other storeowners on Jackson Street, including the owners of Dynamite Clothing and Community, complained to the ADDA. He said they have not yet been offered a solution.

“If you’re a store on Clayton Street, and a beer truck is parked in the center lane, it is probably 50 feet from the beer truck to the front of the store,” Adams said. “If a beer truck is right there, it’s seven and a half feet from the front of my store. Nobody will be able to see me.”

Adams said he feels that the new law was created with bar owners specifically in mind.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. Eighty-five percent of the trucks there are beer trucks,” Adams said. “Well the bars don’t open until 10 o’clock at night. Well, why not deliver at night? They said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to inconvenience any body.’ Well, it inconveniences me when I don’t have any business because of it.”

Adams would like to see the loading zone in front of his store removed.

“They better be concerned about the merchants – the few remaining merchants that aren’t bars,” he said. “This town caters to the bars, and that’s just facts.”

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