Pedestrian fatalities continue grisly climb

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Pedestrian fatalities continue grisly climb

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KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Family members and friends attend a vigil Friday, December 20, 2013, for 6-year-old Christopher Cook Jr., who was struck and killed while trying to cross Old National Highway outside of a crosswalk on Monday December 16. Police say he and his older brother were headed home to their apartment complex from a local barber shop. His incident is part of a troubling trend. The Georgia Department of Transportation has recorded 166 pedestrian fatalities so far this year — a 14% increase over the same time last year - and last year’s tally reflected an uptick as well. GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden said the spate of pedestrian deaths is concerning and “way out of whack” with other accident statistic trends.

The 6-year-old boy struck and killed after darting into the street near his South Fulton apartment complex earlier this month is part of a troubling trend.

Since 2008, the number of pedestrian fatalities in Georgia has increased by 20 percent, and the number of fatalities could grow by year’s end. Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden said the uptick in pedestrian deaths is concerning and “way out of whack” with other traffic fatalities, which have been declining steadily since 2005.

“Traditionally on a national level, pedestrians tend to make up 10 to 12 percent of fatalities in a given year,” Golden said. “When you start to see that number approaching 15 percent (in Georgia) … it jumps off the page.”

Nationally, pedestrian fatalities are taking up an ever larger share of overall traffic fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s because motor vehicle fatalities have been on a steady decline with the emergence of safer cars, as well as law enforcement crackdowns on not wearing seat belts and driving drunk.

About half of pedestrian deaths in Georgia occur in the metro Atlanta area.

They tend to be concentrated on five-to-seven-lane roads in the older, inner-ring suburbs, said Sally Flocks, president of the pedestrian advocacy group PEDS. Examples of such roads are Buford Highway, South Cobb Drive and Old National Highway, where 6-year-old Christopher Cook Jr. was killed Dec. 16.

Such streets are lined with apartment complexes, strip malls, and bus stops, but have long distances between crosswalks. Apartment dwellers trekking to or from area retailers are often the victims, Flocks said.

Christopher’s mother, Tamica Bryant, 32, believes crosswalks with flashing signals may have prevented her son’s death. He was walking home from a barber shop with his 16-year-old brother. The two boys were standing in the center median when Christopher let go of his older brother’s hand and dashed into the street, where he was hit by a sport-utility vehicle, according to Fulton County police.

“It’s sad that it took a baby for people to realize that we do something about this road,” Bryant said. “Not even just pedestrian accidents, but vehicle accidents happen here because this street is just dangerous.”

Flocks said crosswalks, medians and pedestrian safety islands could reduce injuries and fatalities if they were installed along more problem roads.

State officials say they are constantly doing road studies, looking objectively at where improvements should be made on corridors that are “hot spots” for pedestrian injuries and deaths. But it’s difficult to keep up when there are many miles of roadways. And installing medians can be controversial since they block potential customers from turning into businesses, so transportation planners have to get consensus from people the community about them, Golden said.

One surprise buried in the statistics was that about 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on interstates. Usually these are people who exit their vehicle to change a flat tire or inspect damage from a crash.

Golden, whose relative was struck and killed on I-285 a few weeks ago, urged motorists to dial 511 for a HERO unit when they have a vehicle breakdown or wreck on the interstate.

Pedestrian fatalities in Georgia
2013 171
2012 167
2011 124
2010 137
2009 151
2008 142
Total 892
*Source Georgia Department of Transportation.
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