Atlanta bans right on red, but only in these areas

The legislation impacts intersections in downtown, Midtown and Castleberry Hill

Atlanta City Council passed legislation on Monday that outlaws right turns on red lights in downtown, Midtown and Castleberry Hill. The bill is part of a larger policy effort by council members to increase pedestrian safety in the city.

The legislation will impact 250 intersections in those neighborhoods — areas of the city where crowds regularly traverse busy streets when attending sports games, concerts, conventions and other large events. The bill empowers law enforcement to hand out citations to violators.

It also impacts a small number of intersections in those areas of the city that allow left turns on red lights. Those turns also are banned under the legislation.

“At the end of the day, the intent behind this legislation is to ensure that our city is doing everything in its power to make pedestrians as safe as possible,” said Council member Jason Dozier, who sponsored the measure. “There has never been a more dangerous time to be a pedestrian in this city (and) in this country.”

But the legislation won’t be fully in effect until 2025 and some worry the anticipated slow process for posting signage may confuse residents.

While council members have been pushing pedestrian safety changes, advocates also are raising red flags about an increased number of pedestrian fatalities.

Pedestrian deaths in the city jumped 23% from 2021 to 2022, according to a report from PropelATL — a pedestrian safety nonprofit. Thirty-eight pedestrians were killed within city limits in 2022 compared to 31 the previous year.

“This legislation, if passed, will save lives,” Rebecca Serna, executive director of PropelATL, told council members during transportation committee last week. “It’s the right response to the city’s unnecessary and growing epidemic of traffic fatalities and injuries.”

The organization’s report found that 10% of Atlanta’s streets account for 50% of pedestrian-vehicle fatalities, as well as a majority of pedestrian and bicycle crashes. More than two-thirds of Atlanta’s 38 fatalities last year occurred in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

In April 2020, City Council passed a “Vision Zero” plan to work toward eliminating pedestrian deaths altogether and has passed various other pieces of legislation related to the issue.

Guidance from the Federal Highway Administration advises that right turns on red lights should be prohibited in areas with high foot traffic. A handful of other cities across the U.S., including Washington, D.C., Seattle and Raleigh, North Carolina, have also passed laws restricting red light turns.

The legislation passed in a 10 to 3 vote. Council members Alex Wan, Antonio Lewis and Howard Shook voted against the legislation.

Although he voted against the legislation, Wan said, he is supportive of the policy change if carried out across the city.

“I feel like the conversation we should be having is doing it citywide not piecemeal and not in just certain sections of the city,” he said. “Because if we do believe in it for part of the city, in terms of pedestrian safety, we should be protecting pedestrians everywhere.”

He also raised concerns that to make the changes in those areas alone would come with a high price and take a substantial amount of time while the Atlanta Department of Transportation also faces a backlog of unfinished projects.

The legislation that passed stipulates that the restrictions will be in full effect by December 2025 while the original legislation gave a 180-day timeline for the transportation department to post signage. Wan noted that the extended implementation date may cause some confusion for residents in the meantime.

“That’s two years and I’m worried that pedestrians are already going to be kind of expecting this in that interim,” he said.