Susan Collins was a long time supporter of PEDS. She died this year and to keep her memory and her passion for improving the walkability of our region for all alive, we wanted to share a little bit about Collins. We interviewed Collins back in 2015 to hear about her life without a car. She commuted to work every day by walking, taking the bus, and the train. She braved the cold even though it bothered her arthritis and braved high speed streets that did not have sidewalks even though her stability wasn’t great.
Collins lived in Roswell and worked in Buckhead at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. We interviewed her at the age of 69. Collins was still commuting to work by foot but starting to see the difficulties of getting around as someone with health issues and age-related complications. She worried that the difficulty of the commute would force her into an earlier retirement than she planned and away from her important work.
“I’m getting close to the age when I may have to retire, but I have been there for 31 years. I was raised in New Jersey. Growing up in my age group you had to have a good cause…had to have one, and so I’ve enjoyed very much and felt very fulfilled with my good cause. I do know that I need to retire and I think they want to keep me, but old age and oncoming health difficulties could force [retirement],” said Collins.
Collins’ commute was treacherous to say the least. Along her walk there were high speed roads, missing sidewalks, and tripping hazards. So the last thing she wanted to do on her lunch break to get some fresh air and some exercise was go for another walk. The building where she worked had a parking garage and they allowed her to walk the top of the parking structure like a track during her break.
“What I do on my lunch hour – I have permission from my building - is go to the top floor of the parking structure, where there’s a beautiful view and lots of fresh air. I walk in circles, big circles in the big parking structure,” Collins said.
Collins saw fixing her and many others walkability issues two ways. One, the driver culture needed to change. Much of her fear came from the rate of speed and the lack of yielding to pedestrians and stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks and when they have the right of way. Collins didn’t trust anyone behind the wheel while she was walking, she always made sure to keep an eye on oncoming traffic.
“I don’t want my back to all that nutty traffic,” said Collins. “I was always a terrified pedestrian…The whole time I’ve been in Atlanta the drivers have been so fast and they just don’t see pedestrians and this has always been a concern of mine. I’ve always been a terrified pedestrian.”
Her second strategy was to improve the walking infrastructure. So what solution did Collins propose?
“Sidewalks! … On Rucker Road, I have a friend who’s just plain afraid to walk on account of the heavy traffic and no sidewalks, which various local governments keep promising and don’t do it,” said Collins. “It’s not just for me but for everyone facing these challenges. They’re really very serious. Especially with these people who don’t have room for it, who are just strapped for cash, no cars, no choice and difficulties, including health problems.”