Why walking can be fatal & what we're doing to change that

One death is too many.

Edna Umeh, a school crossing guard in Cobb County, loved children and was treasured by her community. Sadly, sheEdna Umeh - WSB screen shot was killed in 2017 while standing in the two-way center turn lane directing traffic in front of Lindley Middle School.

Was the reckless driver at fault? Absolutely.

But so was the high-speed, five-lane road that was designed for cars only.

Fatal wrecks up 16 percent - 2018 ajc clipping

But sadly, Umeh is just one of many innocent victims who lost their lives while walking in Georgia.

The numbers are alarming.

Even with a projected 40-50% pandemic related decrease in traffic in 2020, pedestrian fatalities in Georgia increased by 15 percent. Some 283 people were killed in 2020, making it the deadliest in history.

Why walking can be fatal

High-risk roads have a typical pattern: multi-lane roads with speed limits at 40 mph or higher that lack lighting and safe crossings.

People who live in communities with a high number of zero-car households walk more and have a greater risk of severe or fatal injuries. In many low-income areas, streets were designed for auto traffic only.

People who walk to public transit are especially vulnerable. One out of four pedestrian deaths occurs within 100 feet of a transit stopThree out of four occur within 300 feet.People standing in 2-way turn lane adjacent to bus stop

Transportation professionals know that – and it shouldn’t take a tragedy to prompt state and local agencies to install refuge islands, lighting and safe crossings.

Pedestrian safety depends on three E’s: Education, Enforcement and Engineering.

Over the years, PEDS has published articles, worked with police officers and taken other actions that increased compliance Drivers must stop when a pedestrian is in a crosswalkwith crosswalk laws, especially in urban areas.

But in areas where walking is especially dangerous, engineering is by far the most important.

For people who walk, safe crossings are essential.

Everyone — whether walking, riding a bicycle, driving a car, or taking public transit–has a right to safe, convenient access to destinations.

This is especially important on streets with more than three lanes and over 12,000 cars a day. On these, marked crosswalks alone are never enough. Yet removing crosswalks is not a solution. Instead, engineers must supplement crosswalks with lighting, high-tech beacons, signage or other devices.

Plenty of quality engineers know how to create safe crossings and “right-sized “roads in urban and suburban areas. Indeed, the Federal Highway Administration has identified numerous safety tools that have been proven to reduce and eliminate danger to people on foot.

FHWA Proven Safety Countermeasures

Are we there yet?

No. But progress is rewarding.

A decade ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation took a black-and-white approach to crosswalkGDOT engineers and PEDS leaders look at plans for safety improvements on Ponce de Leons. If a multi-lane intersection was controlled by a traffic signal, it provided a crosswalk. But at locations without signals, pedestrians received nothing.

We serve on numerous and advisory committees and have participated in at least a dozen road safety or bus stop audits, and without doubt, our input is making a difference. We’re thrilled that GDOT, the Atlanta Regional Commission and others have stepped up to the plate. We’re also thrilled to see more and more refuge islands and high-tech beacons at midblock locations, as well as signal timing that gives people who walk a head start.

GDOT adopts Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.Pedestrian Safety Action Plan

The Georgia Department of Transportation is committed to increasing pedestrian safety and called on us to identify strategies and action steps that make this possible.

GDOT recently adopted the Georgia Pedestrian Safety Action Plan we helped develop during 2017 and early this year. The plan identifies statewide goals, strategies, action steps and performance measures. It also

  • Promotes increased investment in safety solutions.
  • Aligns safety funding with proven countermeasures
  • Targets locations with high needs and opportunities for success.

And perhaps most important, the PSAP names responsible parties for implementing strategies and action items.

GDOT is also updating its Pedestrian and Streetscape Guidelines. PEDS serves on the Stakeholder Committee, and we’re thrilled that it includes a section that identifies where crosswalks should be located and how they should be designed.

ARC embraces a Safe System Approach.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently adopted Safe Streets for Walking and Bicycling.  Regional Pedestrian Safety & Bicycle Safety plan

Inspired by Vision Zero, the action plan sets an aggressive target: zero pedestrian and bicycle fatalities by 2030.

PEDS applauds ARC for anticipating that people sometimes make mistakes and that roads should be designed to ensure that mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities.

The Safe Streets plan also recognizes that reacting to “hot spots” is too little, too late. Instead, ARC recognizes that hazards are systemic and predictive, and that proactive safety improvements are essential.

To that end, ARC will focus regional transportation funding on projects that eliminate road designs that endanger people who walk or bike. ARC will also help local jurisdictions develop effective safety projects.

We’re thrilled that like the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Atlanta Regional Commission has adopted guidelines on where crosswalks should be located and how they should be designed.

Moving from planning to implementation

Momentum is strong, but this is just a start. It took billions of dollars and a lot of time to develop a region as auto-centric as ours. And it will take time and money to make the region one where we can cross the street conveniently and safely.

Now the real work begins: Holding parties accountable for implementing action steps and safety solutions. With your continued support, we’ll make that happen.