OPINION: Decatur’s ‘Intersection of Death’ just can’t get fixed

Once again, the intersection of North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue was the scene of a serious wreck. Last week a car blew through a red light, according to police. and slammed into a Prius. The driver was knocked unconscious but survived. Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Adam Francois Watkins

Credit: Decaturish and Adam Francois Watkins

caption arrowCaption
Once again, the intersection of North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue was the scene of a serious wreck. Last week a car blew through a red light, according to police. and slammed into a Prius. The driver was knocked unconscious but survived. Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Adam Francois Watkins

Credit: Decaturish and Adam Francois Watkins

We were driving the kids to school when I turned to my wife, at the wheel, and said, “Watch out!”

I saw a woman — an Emory doctor, as it turns out — in a car on her cellphone, barreling through the red light on North Decatur Road and heading right for our minivan.

“CRASH!” She slammed into our front wheel well and driver side door. We had four kids in the van. All were OK but very startled.

I told the Decatur cop who responded that people blow the red light all the time at that intersection, North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue. He nodded.

It was at that intersection where I learned to count to three AND then look both ways before proceeding through any green light. That was 15 years ago.

Last week, Decaturish news carried yet another segment in its ongoing “Groundhog Day” coverage of the dangerous intersection.

In that case, Emory researcher Eri Saikawa was proceeding through the intersection when a BMW blew the red light, according to police, and plowed into the driver side of her Toyota Prius. She was knocked unconscious but told me she considers herself lucky. From the looks of the photos, she could have been killed.

Since my 2007-ish wreck, there have been several TV news stories about the dangerous intersection, at least two deaths near it, dozens of wrecks, numerous injuries, meetings with Decatur officials and a 79-page report drawn up for the neighborhood that concluded, “N. Decatur currently poses safety hazards for pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles.”

caption arrowCaption
A couple of years ago, some graffiti artist decided to let the world know his or her thoughts about the dangerous intersection at North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue. Photo by Cindy Giver

Credit: Photo by Cindy Giver

A couple of years ago, some graffiti artist decided to let the world know his or her thoughts about the dangerous intersection at North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue. Photo by Cindy Giver

Credit: Photo by Cindy Giver

caption arrowCaption
A couple of years ago, some graffiti artist decided to let the world know his or her thoughts about the dangerous intersection at North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue. Photo by Cindy Giver

Credit: Photo by Cindy Giver

Credit: Photo by Cindy Giver

Some crazy/brave graffiti artist even ventured into the middle of the 21,000-car-a-day intersection and painted a huge “Day of the Dead” style mural on the pavement.

In response, the city has placed a couple of signs to warn drivers there’s a stop light ahead, and the eastbound lanes have a radar sign that alerts you to your speed. (It wasn’t working on Friday). They’ve also erected an additional stop light that’s easier to view from the curving eastbound lanes. But the carnage continues.

I spoke with DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who was well aware of the problem.

“North Decatur Road is a very old road,” he said. “It’s narrow and hilly and windy and everyone is going fast and not paying attention.”

However...

“There’s not a lot of great options outside of cutting capacity or blowing it out (widening it) to accommodate traffic,” Rader said.

There’s one more problem: That intersection belongs to Decatur. For some reason, probably 40-plus years ago, the city annexed a nub of residential land up to North Decatur Road. That means a very busy and problematic road mostly belongs to DeKalb County, except that very problematic — and dangerous — intersection.

There have been various plans for a roundabout at the intersection, widening it to add turn lanes or constructing a “road diet” to cut a lane in each direction of the busy four-lane road. All options are expensive and seem to fall outside of the attention of the two governments.

Adam Francois Watkins, a nearby resident who has twice sent photos of bad wrecks there to Decaturish, told me North Decatur Road at that intersection “is downhill both ways, so people feel like they’re wasting their gas or their momentum if they stop. People blow through it just about every light.”

I suppose it’s not really an important intersection in the eyes of drivers on North Decatur Road, so some figure its really not worth the effort to brake. Even for the 15 seconds that they’d have to stop. (I timed it).

On Friday morning, cars blew through about every other red light.

caption arrowCaption
In May 2015, a cement truck went through a red light at the intersection of North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue, skidded and fell onto a car. The auto's driver survived. Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

Credit: Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

In May 2015, a cement truck went through a red light at the intersection of North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue, skidded and fell onto a car. The auto's driver survived. Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

Credit: Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

caption arrowCaption
In May 2015, a cement truck went through a red light at the intersection of North Decatur Road and Superior Avenue, skidded and fell onto a car. The auto's driver survived. Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

Credit: Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

Credit: Photo courtesy of Decaturish and Mike Hall

In May 2015, David Slagle, a minister, was the latest resident to try to get something done. He set up a meeting with Decatur officials at the intersection. Some 30 minutes before the assigned time, a cement truck blew through the light, went sideways and fell atop an Audi with a city of Decatur license plate. Somehow, the car’s driver survived.

The meeting was canceled, but, “Boy, something will happen now,” Slagle recalls thinking. “It could not be made more clear how dangerous it is. That car was smashed. But, still, nothing gets done. Both Decatur and DeKalb point towards each other.”

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett told me officials are well aware of the intersection. She has said improvements could tally at least $1.5 million. She said MARTA wants to build a bus rapid transit or light rail line up that corridor “and there’s a real hesitation to put in that infrastructure.”

That is, anything that gets done might have to get redone.

And God knows when MARTA might, or if, do anything.

Slagle, a faithful fellow, hates to be skeptical but said, “It’s sad. I hate to say nothing will be done. But we’ve watched it again and again. I hope I’m wrong.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks