An Oct. 31 New York City terror attack using a truck to run over people on a bicycle path is raising security concerns in metro Atlanta, where multi-use paths like the BeltLine and PATH400 are becoming modern landmarks – and possible high-profile targets.

A stretch of the PATH400 multi-use trail in Buckhead. (File Photo/Phil Mosier)

Local cities say they are considering adding barriers or other security upgrades to their paths. New York is already doing that – though the new barriers are raising their own safety concerns among bike riders and pedestrians.

The Atlanta Police Department is among those already upgrading security in response to similar attacks around the world, and adding more car-blocking bollards to the BeltLine is one possibility, said spokesperson Carlos Campos. Some cities still planning their paths – such as Brookhaven’s Peachtree Creek Greenway – say they will factor such threats into their designs and operation planning.

“Terrorist attacks by vehicle are unfortunately not new,” said Campos, adding, “While tragic, these incidents provide us with an opportunity to examine ways that we can improve our security planning.”

Officials also say a crucial part of security is members of the public immediately calling 911 if they see something suspicious. That gives police a chance to prevent attacks from being carried out in the first place.

“We do our best to learn from and prepare against [terror attacks], but it is also important that residents be aware of their surroundings,” said Sandy Springs Police Deputy Chief Keith Zgonc. “If something appears out of place, notify authorities – ‘See something, say something.’”

Driving a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians is a terror tactic used in many incidents around the country and the world for at least 15 years, according to media reports. The method has been promoted by the Islamic State terror group and drew particular notice with an attack last year in Nice, France, where a terrorist ran down and killed 86 people.

In the New York attack, a man drove a rented pickup truck for a mile on the Hudson River Park Bikeway, killing eight people and injuring many others. According to the New York Times, the city has now installed concrete barriers at 57 intersections on the bikeway to stop vehicles, which is already raising controversy about making it more dangerous for normal bike and pedestrian use.

In metro Atlanta, there’s no sign of cities going to such extremes at this point, but the New York attack is factoring into ongoing security reviews.

“We have already been looking at options to bolster security around public events and venues in the city of Atlanta, including the use of large vehicles to block access to pedestrian routes,” Campos said. “The tragic event in New York is another painful reminder that our work in this area is far from done.”

On the BeltLine, APD and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. have already collaborated on such security measures as vehicle barriers and a dedicated police beat called the BeltLine Path Force.

Sandy Springs Deputy Chief of Police Keith Zgonc.

“We will be collaborating to look at the potential to further secure the paths,” said Campos. “We currently have bollards in places along the trail to prevent vehicular traffic; increasing them is a possibility we can look at. Our officers certainly have a heightened security following the NYC attacks and we also encourage BeltLine users to call 911 immediately if they see any suspicious activity.”

Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone said earlier this year that his force was looking at ways to prevent vehicle attacks. One upgrade was tougher barricades at the annual Sandy Springs Festival, which is partly held on a closed-off street. Those methods will get another review in the wake of the New York attack, Zgonc said.

Such attacks are also a concern for cities planning new trails or similar public gathering spaces. Brookhaven is currently in the planning stage of its Greenway, a BeltLine-style park and trail to run along the Peachtree Creek and Buford Highway.

“As with any city transportation or Parks [Department] project, public safety planning is an integral part of the process,” said Brookhaven city spokesperson Burke Brennan. “…As engineering moves forward, and the trail design takes shape, the appropriate personnel will review plans and meet with first responders, so as to ensure the trail’s safety.”

Sandy Springs is currently building a new civic center called City Springs, which will include a new City Hall, a theater intended to draw high-profile events, and a large street-side public park. Much like the BeltLine, City Springs will be protected by vehicle-blocking bollards and a dedicated police precinct, said city spokersperson Sharon Kraun.

“Since the attack in Nice, France, we have looked at enhanced requirements for securing special events such as festivals and road races,” said Zgonc. “Ongoing, we talk with other law enforcement agencies, including the GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] and FBI, and we work closely with city departments in the planning of public spaces.”

–John Ruch, Evelyn Andrews and Dyana Bagby

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