Alarming pedestrian deaths

Transit is the middle leg of two walking trips. Pedestrians who travel regionally use transit for much of their cross-town travel. Rather than walk between activity centers, people walk to transit, take trains or buses and walk to destinations. A 2010 regional survey showed that some three-fourths of transit trips begin and end with walking.

Yet many pedestrians lack safe access to transit. Nearly half of the region’s pedestrian accidents occur within 300 feet of transit stops.

PEDS is dedicated to making metro Atlanta safe and accessible to all pedestrians. And for us, the “Safe Routes to Transit” initiative is a top priority.

Consider Pleasantdale Road in DeKalb County. The crosswalks there are 1.7 miles apart. Between them, the road has eight pairs of bus stops, 12 apartment complexes and a soccer field.

Elsewhere in metro Atlanta, a fence obscured by shrubbery separates the busy Cumberland Transfer Center from the mall across the street. Charles Killebrew, a transit user who waits for his bus there, told us that many times he’s watched people try to cross without knowing a fence is there. “A lot of people dodge out in traffic trying to catch a bus.”

The stories are similar across the region — and across the state. People on foot are dying every two days, on average, from collisions with cars. So far this year, 29 people have lost their lives after getting hit by vehicles in Georgia. Pedestrian fatalities are a growing tragedy here.

Fatalities among motorists have plummeted during the past decade. Yet during the same period, pedestrian fatalities have increased dramatically. Pedestrians now account for over 15 percent of Georgia’s traffic fatalities. Of these, half occur in metro Atlanta. We cannot allow this to be the new normal.

By increasing their attention to pedestrian safety, setting goals, developing strategies and measuring results, state and regional agencies can ensure it won’t be.

Programs and technologies exist that can save lives and reduce serious injuries. “Pedestrians have a right to cross roads safely,” the Federal Highway Administration states in its pedestrian safety guidebook, “and planners and engineers have a professional responsibility to plan, design and install safe and convenient crossing facilities.”

This is especially important on transit corridors, where people expect to cross the street where they get on or off the bus. At these locations, there will be pedestrians, they must be able to cross the street, and they must be able to do so safely.

How can this task best be accomplished? PEDS recently completed Safe Routes to Transit toolkits to answer this question. The toolkits describe and compare safety treatments, and identify issues that call for increased collaboration among agencies.

The scarcity of funds dedicated to pedestrian safety may be the biggest barrier to creating safe pedestrian access to transit. Increased investment in safe crossings is one of the state’s and region’s most important needs.

Research elsewhere in the country shows the cost of crashes exceeds the cost of congestion. In metro Atlanta, we often hear about the per capita cost of congestion in the region. Rarely do we hear about the cost of crashes.

We encourage transportation agencies to revise standards to consider safety as equally important, at a minimum, as vehicular capacity. By measuring the cost of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, agencies can help determine whether they are allocating sufficient funds to facilities that increase safety.

Retrofitting transit corridors with safe crossings will help the Atlanta region solve its epidemic of preventable pedestrian deaths. Even simple improvements — like the median refuge islands installed recently on Buford Highway — make a big difference for pedestrians. By taking the actions needed to implement better crossings, government officials will save lives and reduce serious injuries.

Visit to download your copy of Safe Routes to Transit — Toolkits for Safe Crossings in Metro Atlanta.

Sally Flocks is president and CEO of PEDS, a pedestrian advocacy group.