Decatur officials say grant could yield solutions for making streets safer for pedestriansChurch Street cycle track in the city of Decatur on Thursday, June 15, 2023. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — Crashes involving pedestrians in Decatur are common, but Nov. 6 was a particularly bad day for walkers.
Drivers hit four pedestrians that day, injuring three pedestrians and killing a fourth, a 16-year-old boy.
Now city officials are hoping a planning process funded by a grant can yield recommendations that will prevent future pedestrian crashes.
“I certainly want to acknowledge the sadness and heartbreak around the tragedy where the teenager was killed in Decatur on Monday night, and I think we all feel such a sense of loss and sadness at that event,” Mayor Patti Garrett said. “It’s hard to even describe what you feel when you find out something like that had happened.”
It’s even harder for the city to explain why Nov. 6 was such a dangerous day for walkers in Decatur. The circumstances of the fatal crash are still under investigation, but police reached conclusions and issued citations in the other three cases.
“It really was a bizarre kind of day in terms that we had three pedestrians that were in a place that they were supposed to be, and we had three drivers fail to yield to those pedestrians,” Deputy City Manager David Junger said. “Two were in crosswalks and one was on a sidewalk in a driveway. Obviously police responded and ultimately issued citations to those drivers.”
There was some speculation that the crashes were related to the time change, but three out of the four happened during the day. The fatal crash happened after sunset. The crashes led to renewed calls among residents for the city to redouble its efforts to improve pedestrian safety. The local advocacy group Calm Decatur began circulating a petition asking for lower speed limits, better crosswalks, and increased traffic enforcement. Rebecca Serna, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Propel ATL, called the number of pedestrians hit on Nov. 6 “very concerning” and said elected officials, including Decatur’s, need to work to create safer streets.
“I need to see a sense of urgency to deliver projects that makes streets measurably safer, and unfortunately we don’t always see that,” Serna said.
Junger and Garrett said future safety improvements could be guided by an upcoming planning process that will be funded by a federal Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant.
“We applied to the federal highway administration for a planning grant that seeks to develop a system-wide approach for addressing road safety,” Junger said. “It’s going to help us establish policies moving forward about how we develop and manage our systems.”
The city received $200,000 and Decatur will kick in $40,000 or $50,000 to match it, Junger said.
The planning process would get underway next year and the city would reevaluate current policies, like allowing right turns on red lights and the city’s current speed limits.
“We’re working on establishing a contract with a consultant firm that will help us through it,” Junger said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of community engagement and conversation.”
Those discussions can be an opportunity to educate the public about how driver habits affect pedestrian safety, Garrett said.
“I think that planning process opens up a tremendous opportunity for education and awareness within our community, making sure that we talk about things that we can do as a community also what we can do in terms of driver behavior and sort of the awareness we all need to have when we get behind the wheel of a car,” Garrett said.
Junger noted that the city has been known for its efforts to improve pedestrian safety, including the creation of protected cycle tracks and the installation of planters on West Howard Avenue. Those projects have been the subject of criticism, scrutiny and — in the case of the planters — ridicule.
Not long ago, on Oct. 26, the planters took the brunt of the damage after a driver hit them. Police allege the driver was intoxicated.
Garrett said that while these projects can be an inconvenience for the public, they are a part of the city’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety.
“I feel like we’ve tried to have a comprehensive approach with infrastructure, but I do feel like we have to continue to impress upon our community the importance of driver awareness and because we have a lot of people using our sidewalks, and we’re building out a network of bike lanes, our bike lanes also help slow down traffic,” Garrett said. “I had somebody comment to me, ‘I love the new sidewalks on Church Street, but I’m not crazy about the bike lanes.’ I said those bike lanes also protect you on the sidewalk, and the bikers.”
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