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.
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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.
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.