Baraka Sentmore died after being hit by car while standing on a pedestrian island at the intersection of Piedmont Road and Morosgo Drive on July 11. She left behind four children.
One month later, Atlanta advocacy group Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety, or PEDS, held a rally to honor her and push for pedestrian safety improvements in the Buckhead intersection and across the city.
“Those children are going to grow up in completely different lives,” Sally Flocks, the founder and CEO of PEDS said at the Aug. 11 rally. “We need to recognize it’s real people being killed.”
Sentmore was killed after being hit by a car after it collided with another car. She was walking to work at the Kroger grocery store at the intersection, Flock said.
Flocks argued the city needs to refocus some attention, and funds, from improving congestion to improving pedestrian safety.
“If we can keep people alive, that’s a lot more important than getting someone home two minutes faster,” she said at the rally held at the intersection where Sentmore died, which about 20 people, including Atlanta mayoral candidate Peter Aman, attended.
“It’s not an issue of affording it. It’s an issue of where are we putting our money,” Flocks said.
The rally was originally planned to focus only on Sentmore’s death, but in the following two weeks, three other pedestrians were killed in DeKalb County, outside of the city of Atlanta boundaries.
Floyd Taylor, a Buckhead resident, explained at the rally that his partner Mauricio Clavigo, who attended the rally in a wheelchair, has balance issues stemming from a gunshot injury and often has issues navigating sidewalks. Taylor explained Clavigo would have issues keeping his balance on the small pedestrian islands inside the heavily trafficked intersection where Sentmore was killed.
Andy McBurney, who works in Buckhead, said he crosses the intersection daily to go to work and would like to see improvements made so he and others could feel safer.
“We need better ways to get across Piedmont Road because there is so much traffic,” McBurney said.
McBurney believes several simple fixes would go a long way, including restriping, paving and changing the timing of lights.
Aman said he came out to the rally to tout that safety is his campaign’s “number one priority.”
“Pedestrian and bicyclist safety is something we can and should improve,” Aman said.
Aman also said the rewriting of the city’s zoning ordinance as part of the Department of City Planning’s City Design Project gives the city an important opportunity to address safety issues across the city. Aman did not have specific issues he wanted to immediately address.
“This is a holistic opportunity to improve safety,” Aman said.
At an interview at the PEDS headquarters in Midtown before the rally, Flocks said that because Piedmont Road is a state highway, she has met with the Georgia Department of Transportation to advocate for improvements at the intersection.
She is advocating for improvements to the intersection’s pedestrian islands, which she places blame on for Sentmore’s death. The islands are only raised in small sections and are mostly level with the ground, causing pedestrians waiting on the islands to be unprotected.
GDOT representatives did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication in this article.
Flocks said sidewalk and pedestrian improvements are important for able-bodied pedestrians and vital for those with disabilities.
“It’s a huge need, especially for people with disabilities,” she said. “There’s not enough consideration for people walking, and very little consideration for how hard it would be if you’re in a wheelchair or if you were blind.”
Flocks also said construction and road work need to have stricter guidelines for allowing pedestrian access, especially as pedestrians with disabilities often have no way of navigating construction areas.
“‘Road work ahead’ or ‘construction ahead’ signs really mean, for someone in a wheelchair, ‘sidewalk closed,’ ” Flocks said.
The city has been working on improving access for pedestrians with disabilities since the city signed an agreement to do so with the U.S. Department of Justice after a federal audit found the city was not complying with the American with Disabilities Act, Flocks said.
The city still is making improvements, including adding curb ramps to allow wheelchair access. More work is being done as part of the Renew Atlanta Bond program, which allocates funds to improve the city’s infrastructure, Flocks said.
“It will happen, but I think it’s really shameful that it hasn’t happened yet,” she said of the ADA improvements and curb ramps.
City representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
The Renew Atlanta Bond lists several active projects being done to comply with the ADA, including two in Buckhead, although construction has not begun. The city will build accessible ramps on sidewalks along Lenox Road from Johnson Road in Morningside-Lenox Park to near the Lenox MARTA Station. The other is along Old Ivy Road, which runs between Piedmont and Wieuca roads.
Flocks also believes the city could improve ATL311, the service that allows residents to put in requests for infrastructure fixes, among other uses. After a request is sent to the proper department, the request is closed, even if the fix has not been made. Flocks is advocating for the city to change this process.
“It’s been very frustrating to people who use it,” Flocks said.
Flocks noted the design of streets in Buckhead play a role in pedestrian safety. Compared to Midtown, the street lights are placed farther apart, making it easier for drivers to speed, Flocks said.
Buckhead is also much more spread out than other areas of Atlanta, and more people rely on driving than in some other areas of the city.
“It is a much more car-dependent part of the region, so you have a lot of people who don’t walk very much for transportation,” she said.