As folks reach out with questions and concerns, I would like to share correspondence on the website. This is for transparency, accountability, and, most of all, to grow the involvement of others in our dialogue.

We all stand to learn from each other. Furthermore, our best ideas and best chances of implementing them will come from collective understanding and effort. As the platform states, it is a living document. It will evolve as our conversation continues and the movement grows!

Hi Jesse,

I live in District 6 (quadrant D to be specific). I am excited to have the opportunity to have a new commissioner for our district. I am encouraged by the progressive growth of the mayor and commission office in the past couple of years, and I hope that this trend continues with the replacement of Jerry NeSmith (out with the old and in with the new as they say).

While I think that issues that affect the entire county are important, I have very specific concerns with my district area. My number one concern is connectivity. Specifically, I would like to see a sidewalk on Mitchell Bridge Road. This is not just a self-serving interest, as I currently do not live in a neighborhood that abuts this road.

The only park that is accessible (Beechaven doesn’t count.. and is another topic I am passionate about) to the West Side of town is Ben Burton Park. Currently the only way to travel to and from Ben Burton park is by vehicle. There are at least 5 neighborhoods on Mitchell Bridge who’s citizens would have to get in their car and drive to the park in order to access it.

My son attends Timothy Road Elementary. He is in the 5th grade and will be graduating, so this also is no longer relevant to my concerns, BUT if a sidewalk were placed on Mitchell Bridge, this would provide access for children to walk or ride bikes to school. As it is now they HAVE to take a bus or be driven to a school that for some is less than half a mile away. This is ridiculous.

While I realize this is not a campaign concern or the most pressing matter at hand, I do hope that if you are elected you will consider making connectivity a priority. I believe that we should provide a safe route for people to travel regardless of their ability to drive or own a car.

Since I mentioned Beechaven, I would love for this park to be made a priority. It is a shame that the county owns this property and beautiful park that no one can access. A bridge and parking lot across the river is all that is necessary to make it into a destination for west side citizens.

Good luck to you, I wish you well.

[District 6 Resident]
Tremont Ct.

Hi [neighbor]!

To start, I want to reiterate my appreciation for you reaching out as well as how glad I am to know you’re excited about our campaign! I want to follow up with a bit more detail, though I’d still enjoy talking with you if you’d like to call or meet in person.

I certainly agree that we need more sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes in most of our district’s neighborhoods including and especially the main arteries along Mitchell Bridge and Tallassee. Public transportation, cycling and walkability are fundamental to healthy communities, as are, I believe, green spaces and trail networks. Too often we see the maintenance and expansion of automobile-centric infrastructure happen at the expense of this.

To share some of my personal background on these matters: I’m proud to have spent a couple years on the steering committee of Complete Streets Athens, an advocacy organization that was dedicated to alternative transportation networks countywide. We lobbied for measures that seeded a lot of what has since become the Athens in Motion Bike-Pedestrian Master Plan, though, like any good thing, I and that group can not take credit entirely. Parallel to that, my work with others’ campaigns and Athens for Everyone has included a strong emphasis on the same, especially during the formulation of the most recent list of T-SPLOST projects.

I intend to approach work on the commission much as I have community organizing which is to say it’s a collaborative effort. I think we stand to gain the most by sharing our insights and working together to make things happen. To that end, I’m not sure how much of this is familiar to you, but I imagine that someone with your passion and experience has insights to share and may very well know even more than I about what is already in the works. Following are some of my thoughts and my understanding to date.

Years of planning and gathering community-wide input have given us the Athens in Motion Master Plan and, by my understanding, it is both a solid plan for building the infrastructure we need as well as a well-developed plan that has centered equity and areas of greatest need in its prioritization structure. Athens in Motion divides its project lists into three tiers, the first of which is already being enacted and has funding from the recent T-SPLOST, among other places. It includes Tallassee Road. My understanding is that Mitchell Bridge Road is in tier two, and tier two projects will begin to be acted upon in approximately six years with priorities to be determined at that time. It makes sense to me for a variety of reasons, such as the ones you cited, that Mitchell Bridge be a high priority when tier two is addressed, because when tier two is addressed, there will be some deliberation over which specific projects get focused on first.

Beyond Athens in Motion, I believe we need to enact stronger policies regarding our transportation infrastructure. For example, our existing Complete Streets Resolution should be used to guide ordinances that have more teeth in requiring sidewalks and bike lanes (and green space) when infrastructure projects such as scheduled repaving come through and when new developments are built. This will help us expedite connectivity countywide, though I see Athens in Motion as the way forward to ensure all that piecemeal work will actually be connected in a way that’s sensible and equitable.

As an aside, I think it’s worth noting that these sorts of stronger policies and ordinances with “teeth” are needed all over the place in Athens. We’ve seen a lot of encouraging resolutions passed over the years, including recent resolutions supporting immigrants, acknowledging the legacy of racism, and committing to 100% clean and renewable energy. However those pieces of paper cease to become funding, law, or material change without political will to follow through. One way to ensure that progressive policies envisioned in these resolutions are seen through, even as faces on the Commission change, is to enact ordinances and policies that will direct the ACC government’s departments in its work for years to come.

Finally with regard to Beechaven, I have less knowledge about this tract specifically and hope you can enlighten me. My understanding is that the Greenway Master Plan, which overlaps with Athens in Motion, includes measures to build the kinds of trails you’re referencing in that area specifically, which (correct me if I’m wrong) is the largely wooded tract across the river from your neighborhood? However, I don’t know specifics on what the planned trails/infrastructure there will look like or the timeline for when they will be installed.

I would love to put our heads together and then reach out to folks to get more answers as needed on all of the above. I wish we could rewind the clock and build a less autocentric infrastructure from the get-go, but I feel optimistic about our ability to make things right on a fairly reasonable timeline. I’m also all ears on ways to make things happen smarter and faster.

With gratitude and solidarity,

Jesse Houle