Pedestrian dangers

A dangerous stretch of Pleasantdale Road.

A dangerous stretch of Pleasantdale Road.

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Pedestrian deaths in metro Atlanta are rising, with nearly half the fatalities occurring near transit stops. Today, a local activist lists some reasons for the alarming fact that 29 people on foot have died already in 2014. On the flip side of this trend, we’ve seen a steady decrease in highway fatalities in Georgia. A state official attributes that success to several developments, but adds that motorists need a greater share-the-road mentality regarding bicycles and pedestrians.

Commenting is open.

Alarming death rate

By Sally Flocks

Think about it. Transit is the middle leg of two walking trips. Pedestrians who travel regionally use transit for much of their cross-town travel. Rather than walk between activity centers, people walk to transit, take trains or buses and walk to destinations. In 2010 a regional survey showed that some three-fourths of transit trips begin and end with walking.

Yet many pedestrians lack safe access to transit. Nearly half of the region’s pedestrian crashes occur within 300 feet of transit stops.

PEDS is dedicated to making metro Atlanta safe and accessible to all pedestrians. And for us, Safe Routes to Transit is a top priority.

Consider Pleasantdale Road in DeKalb County. The crosswalks there are 1.7 miles apart. Between them, the road has eight pairs of bus stops, twelve apartment complexes and a soccer field.

Elsewhere in metro Atlanta, a fence obscured by shrubbery separates the busy Cumberland Transfer Center from the mall across the street. Charles Killebrew, a transit user who waits for his bus there, told us that many times he’s watched people try to cross without knowing a fence is there. “A lot of people dodge out in traffic trying to catch a bus.”

The stories are similar across the region – and across the state. People on foot are dying every two days, on average, from collisions with cars. So far this year, 29 people have lost their lives after getting hit by vehicles in Georgia. Pedestrian fatalities are a growing tragedy here.

Fatalities among motorists have plummeted during the past decade. Yet during the same period, pedestrian fatalities have increased dramatically. Pedestrians now account for over 15 percent of Georgia’s traffic fatalities. Of these, half occur in metro Atlanta. We cannot allow this to be the new normal.

By increasing their attention to pedestrian safety, setting goals, developing strategies and measuring results, state and regional agencies can ensure it won’t be.

Programs and technologies exist that can save lives and reduce serious injuries. “Pedestrians have a right to cross roads safely,” the Federal Highway Administration states in its pedestrian safety guidebook, “and planners and engineers have a professional responsibility to plan, design and install safe and convenient crossing facilities.”

This is especially important on transit corridors, where people expect to cross the street where they get on or off the bus. On these, there will be pedestrians, they must be able to cross the street, and they must be able to do so safely.

The Safe Routes to Transit toolkits PEDS completed recently aim to answer the question, “How can this task best be accomplished?” The toolkits describe and compare safety treatments and identify issues that call for increased collaboration among agencies.

The scarcity of funds dedicated to pedestrian safety may be the biggest barrier to creating safe pedestrian access to transit. Increased investment in safe crossings is one of the state and region’s most important needs.

Research elsewhere in the country shows that the cost of crashes exceeds the cost of congestion. In metro Atlanta, we often hear about the per capita cost of congestion in the region. Rarely do we hear about the cost of crashes.

We encourage transportation agencies to revise standards to consider safety as equally important, at a minimum, as vehicular capacity. By measuring the cost of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, agencies can help determine whether they are allocating sufficient funds to facilities that increase safety.

Retrofitting transit corridors with safe crossings will help the Atlanta region solve its epidemic of preventable pedestrian deaths. Even simple improvements like the median refuge islands installed recently on Buford Highway make a big difference for pedestrians. By taking the actions needed to implement better crossings, government officials will save lives and cut serious injuries.

Visit peds.org to download your copy of Safe Routes to Transit – Toolkits for Safe Crossings in Metro Atlanta.

Sally Flocks is president and CEO of PEDS, a pedestrian advocacy group.

Traffic fatalities decrease

By Harris Blackwood

From 2005 to 2013, Georgia has experienced a 32 percent reduction in traffic fatalities. The data from 2013 revealed that 1,186 people were killed on the roads of our state. That number is more than the individual population of almost half the cities in our state.

For eight consecutive years, Georgia has seen the fatality numbers go down to the lowest point since record-keeping began more than 60 years ago.

There are many factors that contributed to the trend. More Georgians are using their seatbelts than ever before. A study conducted by the University of Georgia for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety showed that 95 percent of motorists on Georgia roads are now wearing seatbelts. That number has increased since 2010 when the state began requiring seatbelt use in pickup trucks.

In addition, parents in our state are securing their children in child passenger safety seats, as required by state law. This includes a greater number of 6- and 7-year-olds in booster seats, which elevates the child and makes the vehicle seatbelt cross their bodies at the hips, rather than across the soft tissue of their lower abdomen.

We can also attribute the improved numbers to the use of high-visibility traffic enforcement. The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, in partnership with the Georgia State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies, has conducted campaigns in a number of areas across the state.

In Augusta, an enforcement campaign, combined with an enhanced traffic unit established by Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree, resulted in a 50 percent reduction in traffic fatalities in 2013.

But our state is not content to rest on current numbers. The state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan includes a long-range goal of moving toward zero deaths, a national concept that has been adopted by many states. To do this, we must continue our educational and enforcement efforts.

The fiscal year 2015 state budget, as passed by the General Assembly, includes $2.9 million to fund driver’s training programs for our youngest and least experienced drivers. Better preparing our young drivers will help us continue to reduce teen deaths on our roads.

The graduated driver’s license, as prescribed in the Teen and Adult Driving Responsibility Act, has resulted in fewer 16-year-olds getting their licenses. Data shows more teens are waiting until age 17 to get their driver’s licenses, opting to spend more time behind the wheel with a learner’s permit and an adult in the passenger seat to supervise.

Other challenges that Georgia must face include an increased usage of both illegal and prescription drugs by drivers. The number of cases of driving under the influence of drugs is rising annually.

The growing problem of texting and driving continues to contribute to traffic injuries and deaths. All of these require new and innovative approaches.

We must also pay attention to the number of fatalities involving alternative modes of transportation, such as bicycles and pedestrians. A top priority for our agency and our partners is the education of drivers on sharing the road with those who bike, jog or walk.

Georgia has much to celebrate in the reduction of deaths on our roads, but a great deal of work remains, and it will require a partnership with the motoring public to make these numbers continue to go down.

Harris Blackwood is director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

8 comments Add your comment

Andy McBurney

April 9th, 2014
10:00 pm

For some reason, people are often tempted to blame pedestrian fatalities on pedestrians. For example, in studying crashes on Buford Highway, I found various cases where a pedestrians crossing in the manner prescribed by Georgia law were hit by a driver, survived, then wrongly cited by police (the drivers were not cited).

People on foot may not always follow the law. They may not even know there is a legal way for them to use our roads, which seem to be designed entirely for motorists. If a person makes a mistake while walking that causes them to be hit by a car, that is tragic. When a person behind the wheel of a car routinely behaves in a way that threatens those around him out of ignorance, that is injustice.

The hope of PEDS’s message is that a little more attention to how we design roads can show pedestrians safe ways to get where they are going and help alert drivers to the people around them. It does not require blaming motorists. It does not require blaming pedestrians. Let’s count the cost, and move forward.

Lee

April 9th, 2014
11:55 am

Much of what has been said above is intuitively sensible, but what if the solution is counter-intuitive? What if GDOT’s road building paradigm has historically been ‘build roads for cars, not people or bicyclists’ and the consequence of that has given Georgia one of the highest pedestrian death rates in the country? Three and five-lane roads are dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists and that is what GDOT designs, builds and defends. Other states have just as many people walking, but not as many pedestrian deaths. Surely it can’t be road design? But, wait- yes it can. Boulevards, divided roads with raised medians (and hopefully, beautifully landscaped) offer refuge for crossing pedestrians, make it safer for drivers turning left out of a side street or parking lot, and move traffic much more efficiently and for about the same cost. Limiting the number of curb cuts on a three and five lane road also helps. Modern, safe, and attractive designs for roads are available, but sadly our Department of Transportation is still stuck in the 60s of building more and wider. How’s that helped the congestion in Atlanta?

Lisa Frank

April 9th, 2014
11:36 am

Thank you for giving PEDS this public forum. Sally Flocks’ work is critical to achieving a civilized urban center so many dream Atlanta can be. Experiencing life on two feet is far superior than behind the wheel of a car. It is time that policy makers and voters wake up and make safe walking conditions a top priority.

Farouk

April 8th, 2014
2:57 pm

When I was a kid in grade school eons ago we were taught that when walking on a roadway you always face oncoming traffic and you always wear light colored clothing after dark. Apparently those valuable lessons have been forgotten over time.

Now it seems like most pedestrians walk on the wrong side of the road, and the nighttime road walkers wearing head to toe dark clothing – you don’t see them till you’re right on top of them. If the police would aggressively enforce pedestrian laws the word would get around, particularly in some of the immigrant communities where many folks still hoof it.

(the other) Rodney

April 8th, 2014
1:23 pm

@Chip you beat me to it – I’ve said for years that just becaus the law protects you crossing the street it will do little by way of protecting you from a car. It doesn’t clear you of any onus from casting an eye both ways before walking.

WMM

April 8th, 2014
11:49 am

The challenge for all of us – advocates, GDOT, county DOTs, and just folks crossing the street – is to look at the whole picture. It’s not just moving traffic – cars, bikes, buses, trucks – down the road. It’s also the people on foot on the side of the road or who want to cross the road. If there’s a transit stop, there needs to be a crosswalk nearby – not 500 yards or more up or down the street. When the transit folks place the stops they need to pay attention not only to where the riders want to stop, but also to how the road is designed to handle car and truck and bike traffic. When the road builders look at traffic operations they need to remember that traffic includes pedestrians and to include crosswalks and refuge islands and sidewalks in their design and upgrades. It’s too easy to overlook one or the other. Like so much, if you look at the whole picture and act on what you see we’ll all be better off.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

April 8th, 2014
10:15 am

The Georgia State Patrol and the DeKalb County Police Department are highly visible during my afternoon commute to Atlanta. I travel I-20 on a daily basis and they are parked in strategic positions often enough to convince motorist to slow down, even when they are not present.

After observing the incapacitating results of accidents firsthand at Grady Hospital and the Shepherd Center of the survivors, I encourage the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to observe every available option within the law to limit the number of fatalities on our roads.

Oh yes! There is an element of truth in Chip’s entire comment. It would be helpful if pedestrians watch where the heck they are going. And revoking the license of the worst drivers is apropos. But in the end, nature will weed out the worst of the pedestrians.

Amen?

Chip

April 8th, 2014
8:37 am

So: how many of these dead pedestrians walked out in traffic with their heads down, looking at their smartphone while surfing the web or texting?

How many had their eyes closed while “rocking out” to their favorite music coming through earbuds, cut off from the noise of approaching cars?

How many strolled out in front of multi-ton moving vehicles without looking because they were totally engrossed in a phone conversation?

How many darted out into traffic from behind parked vehicles?

How many tried to run across a street in mid-block during rush hour instead of going to the corner crosswalk and waiting for the light?

How many strolled out in front of distracted drivers simply expecting the driver to stop because the law says the pedestrian has the right of way, instead of waiting a few seconds to see if the driver was actually going to stop?

Yes, Georgia law says pedestrains have the right or way over automobiles… but the problem here is that, in our increasingly narcissistic society that every day drifts farther from reality, we have a reached a point where too many people simply expect the world to revolve areound them… to the point where they expect the laws of physics to somehow be magically repealed for their benefit when they carelessly and cluelessly step in front of tons of moving metal and plastic.

This is really nothing new. In eons past, careless people were killed by wild animals and murderous highway robbers. Cars have simply replaced some of those earlier predators.

The best way to quickly reduce pedestrain fatalities is for pedestrians to pick up their heads and watch the world around them… again, that old conservative bug-a-boo idea that people should take a little responsibility for themselves.

(And while liberal readers of this post are soiling themselves at my words, i will once again, in total futility, point out that I am NOT talking about little children running out into the street chasing balls, or frail elderly people with diminished sight and sound who can’t move fast. I’m talking about the average, healthy clueless dolts who simply don’t watch what they are doing.)

Of course, in post-modern American la-la land, this issue is just another excuse to confiscate more tax dollars, spend it on more government programs, and — most importantly — give emotionally deranged “activists” like Ms. Flocks an excuse to display her moral superiority by screaming, ranting, cursing, and assaulting people and damaging their property.

If you want to reduce pedestrain deaths, here’s a simple four-point plan:
1) convince most pedestrians to watch where the heck they are going;
2) take away driver’s licenses from the worst ten percent of drivers;
3) let nature weed out the worst of the pedestrians, and:
4) put ‘activists’ like Ms. Flocks in a facility where she can get the help she obviously needs.