A recent report by a group called Smart Growth America ranked metro Atlanta as the eighth deadliest city in the country for pedestrians. That’s why police and planners in Reporter Newspapers communities say they’re working to cut down on jaywalking as they try to make their streets more “walkable.”
Their tactics recently have included pedestrian and driver education and enforcement, sidewalk and crosswalk improvements, and even an undercover sting.
“It’s challenging in a suburban environment because infrastructure is more car-oriented, but we’re trying to be proactive to make it better for pedestrians,” said Dunwoody public works director Michael Smith.
Local officials say they’re trying a variety of ways to address pedestrian problems.
“It’s a constant battle,” said Sandy Springs police Officer Brandon Smith. He says his department tries to educate pedestrians breaking the rules by stopping and talking to them when violations occur.
Smith said the problem occurs more in areas with apartment complexes located across the street from convenience and grocery stores. He said the fact that the city is installing more visible crosswalks and medians is encouraging. The medians “give pedestrians a safe haven once they get half way,” he said.
Dunwoody police Officer Tim Fecht says he recently acted as “pedestrian bait” to nab drivers who failed to yield when he attempted to walk across Mount Vernon Road.
“We’ve had several people complain about Mount Vernon traffic failing to yield to pedestrians,” he said, explaining that it’s state law for drivers to stop if they see a pedestrian approaching or crossing at a crosswalk.
During the undercover “sting,” nine violators were caught, Fecht said, with six citations handed out in an hour and a half. “It was more than we expected,” he said.
Drivers also were given educational safety pamphlets.
Fecht said that since the sting was made public, the Dunwoody Police Department has received citizen requests to conduct more such operations.
Fecht said Dunwoody hasn’t seen any major pedestrian accidents. “Fortunately, our pedestrians are pretty defensive,” he said, “and we’ve only had a couple of minor bumps.”
In Brookhaven, jaywalkers haven’t been so lucky. The report by Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.,-based group that advocates ways to defeat sprawl, said Buford Highway topped the metro Atlanta list of the worst roads to cross with 22 fatalities recorded in nine years.
That’s why Brookhaven police want to teach some residents how to properly and safely cross a busy street.
Officer Carlos Nino, who conducts community outreach for the Brookhaven department, said his division is reaching out to pedestrians on Buford Highway by holding safety classes at apartment communities. “We truly believe that knowledge is power,” he said.
Nino said pedestrians often opt to jaywalk because of the way Buford Highway is laid out. Pedestrians don’t want to walk hundreds of feet to a crosswalk just to cross the street, and then have to walk all the way back, he said. “There’s just so much distance between one traffic light and another, sometimes there can be a mile, or half a mile,” Nino said.
So officials have added pedestrian “islands” in some places to give walkers a place to pause halfway across. Crossing a street at an inappropriate location, walking just outside a crosswalk, and not waiting for the correct signal can lead to jaywalkers receiving citations. Nino said fines are usually more than $200, and can run up to $500.
He thinks the situation has improved since Brookhaven became a city.
“I’m proud to say that since we started we really haven’t had the quantity of incidents that DeKalb County had,” he said, attributing the improvement to more manpower and police presence. “If you drive up and down Buford Highway you will see in construction now in some pedestrian crosswalks.”
Another part of Brookhaven where officers are focusing on enforcing pedestrian laws is the Dresden Drive area near the MARTA station. Like Buford Highway, the area has a lot of pedestrians crossing the road away from the traffic signal, and also leaving bars intoxicated.
Better street and sidewalk planning also is part of the process for other cities.
In Sandy Springs, for example, the city is in the midst of planning its City Center, a mixed-use development where citizens should be able to safely walk between home, shopping and offices. Sandy Springs city officials budgeted $13.5 million to spend on the City Center in the 2014-15 budget, $8.7 million for transportation improvements and $500,000 for its sidewalk program.
City officials also are setting up special pedestrian crossings on busy streets in other parts of town.
“The city recently installed a pedestrian safety traffic signal on Roswell Road between Long Island Drive and West Belle Isle Road,” Dan Coffer, Sandy Springs spokesman, said in an email.
He said the signal is located just south of the Fountain Oaks shopping center and is adjacent to apartments and office buildings. Also, a new traffic signal with crosswalks was activated on July 3 at Johnson Ferry and Wright roads.
In Dunwoody, Smith says that five miles of new sidewalk have been added since that community became a city five years ago. “The goal of the city is to eventually have sidewalks on both sides of the street on major roads,” he said, including roads with schools or walking routes to schools.
Smith said that in the city’s second year it won an award from PEDS, a pedestrian advocacy group in the Atlanta metro area. He said that Dunwoody has a list of prioritized projects to start funding over the next few years. Citizens can visit the city of Dunwoody’s website for information on its sidewalk improvement program and a pedestrian safety action plan.
“I think the city’s been pretty proactive and aggressive in trying to create a better environment for pedestrians,” Smith said.
In Buckhead, groups like the Community Improvement District and Livable Buckhead have partnered on projects to create a network of sidewalks and trails. Projects in the area include Path400, a greenway stretching down Ga. 400, sidewalk improvements on Peachtree Road, and a pedestrian bridge at the MARTA station spanning Ga. 400.
“Buckhead is definitely making a lot of strides,” said Ian Sansom, PEDS’ pedestrian safety program manager. “It’s added a lot of density, which creates demand. There are wider sidewalks along Peachtree that make it far more comfortable for pedestrians. But it could be a lot better. There needs to be easier ways to cross streets. If you don’t have a street grid, it’s definitely more challenging.”
He said he also likes the progress he’s seeing in the suburbs.
“It’s fantastic seeing so many suburbs become more walkable,” Sansom said. “If you have the resources to do it you can turn any area into a walkable area.”
For more information on the Smart Growth America report, visit www.smartgrowthamerica.org.