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Friday, June 28, 2013

Plan underway to clean up creepy Boulevard tunnel, a key connection between Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward

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  • Boulevard Tunnel Initiative
For most motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians who travel along DeKalb Avenue, the public art that decorates the nearby tunnels and underpasses is a beautiful thing.

But when it comes to the Boulevard tunnel just south of Edgewood Avenue, most pedestrians would prefer avoiding it altogether. That's why a group of Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward residents are now working to clean up and beautify the underpass.

The Boulevard Tunnel Initiative led by Cabbagetown resident Nicki Mlynski is attempting to make the route a safer and more walkable experience.

"It's become a hub for unsavory characters," the Grady Memorial Hospital emergency medicine physician says about the tunnel's stairwells that lead up to DeKalb Avenue. "Honestly, I run into folks using drugs in the stairwell or just hanging out. They're nice and fine, but people leave piles of trash and they use it as a place to poop and urinate."

Many residents avoid walking in the tunnel, the most direct path between the two neighborhoods, because of the same safety and aesthetic concerns.

"It smells." Cyerra Crumrine, an Old Fourth Ward property owner, tells CL. "It's not a pleasant experience walking through the tunnel."

But the group has started to change that through organized clean-up efforts including painting over unwanted graffiti, picking up trash, and pulling weeds. The tunnel still needs to have new guardrails installed, lighting replaced, and potholes fixed.

"It's a major thoroughfare," Mlynski says. "Despite tons of cars going through, there's really poor lighting. The pedestrian guardrails have disintegrated at their bases. There are sections that are completely missing and there's about a four-to-five foot drop into oncoming traffic."

New guardrails might just be needed...
  • Boulevard Tunnel Initiative
  • New guardrails might just be needed...

Once the clean-up and repairs are complete, the Boulevard Tunnel Initiative will commission a muralist to paint a permanent piece spanning the entire underpass. Mlynski estimates that $20,000 will be needed for the paint, supplies, and artist fees. While they haven't yet chosen a painter, she says that muralists Hense, Molly Rose Freeman, and Samuel Parker have all expressed interest in the project. There's also a possibility that the tunnel could be a site for a future Living Walls conference.

The public art won't be created, however, until conditions under the bridge are safer and much more walkable. And the process to making that a reality has been more difficult than expected.

Is that poop in the stairwell?
  • Boulevard Tunnel Initiative
  • Is that poop in the stairwell?
Despite receiving initial support from a number of key figures, including Councilmembers Natalyn Archibong and Kwanza Hall, Mlynski has experienced a lot of red tape in figuring out who's ultimately responsible for the tunnel's upkeep.

"Everyone was excited, but no one could figure out who's responsible for the tunnel," she says. "Nobody knows."

The Department of Public Works committed early in the process to making some repairs, but since has been slow to respond and stalled the group's efforts. According to spokeswoman Valerie Bell-Smith, some minor repairs, graffiti removal, and pressure washing will occur in the coming weeks.

"We did not have the necessary resources in place at the onset of our discussions with the community earlier this year so our work was temporarily delayed," Bell-Smith says.

Once the repairs happen, the Boulevard Tunnel Initiative will have to run the proposed public art past three different Neighborhood Planning Units and a slew of other city officials.

In addition, the group is also looking for donations and will soon have an online fundraising page created where people can offer support. Ultimately, Mlynski says, she hopes people will see the effort as a worthwhile investment in their own communities.

"It's impossible to guarantee that [a safer experience] will happen," she says. "But if we make the lights brighter, if we make the pedestrian guardrails exist, if we clean it up, and mural it. It'll then be OK to walk from Cabbagetown to Old Fourth Ward."

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