By Clare S. Richie
Next time you safely walk in a crosswalk, think of the advocacy group Pedestrians Educating Drivers (PEDS). In January, PEDS and its partners will celebrate 20 years of progress making the Atlanta metro area safer and more accessible for people who walk.
PEDS, led by founding president and CEO Sally Flocks, has promoted safety improvements that helped change driving behavior.
“Crosswalks changed from two parallel lines to a more visible ladder design,” Flocks said, noting that in-street signs, median islands and high-tech beacons are other tools PEDS promoted to help people cross busy streets.
In 1995, the Georgia legislature changed the crosswalk law, requiring drivers to “stop and stay stopped” for pedestrians in crosswalks, not to just yield to them. Flocks started PEDS a year later.
Flocks grew up in California during the 1960s, where drivers stopped for pedestrians and police enforced pedestrian laws. After moving to Atlanta in the 1970s, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and had to stop driving. She experienced how dangerous it was to walk to work – broken sidewalks, insufficient crosswalks, poor street design and drivers indifferent to walkers. After successful brain surgery in 1995, Flocks was eager to start a new chapter in her life. She started PEDS as a full-time volunteer.
In 1999, PEDS led crosswalk demonstrations at 13th and Peachtree streets, where 50 years earlier a speeding car had struck and killed “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. Drivers honked and yelled, and Flocks was nearly hit as she tried to walk in the crosswalk.
In 2001, thanks to PEDS’ efforts, North Highland Avenue and Peachtree at Woodruff Park received the first in-street crosswalk signs. As more were added, driver behavior changed. “Good engineering breeds good driving,” Flocks explained. “Police felt better about enforcement and the public learned that pedestrians do have the right of way.”
PEDS’ initial focus was to educate drivers, but the advocacy group later realized that road design was more critical. For example, one-way multilane streets like Courtland Street in Downtown facilitate speeding. In contrast, adding center turn lanes like on Ponce de Leon Avenue reduces the number of crashes. Thanks to PEDS, transportation agencies are installing pedestrian refuge islands, Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons, Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons and other safe crossing tools.
PEDS also learned that Atlanta’s most vulnerable pedestrians were transit commuters. The Atlanta Regional Commission found that more than 20 percent of pedestrian crashes occur within 100 feet of a transit station or bus stop, half within 300 feet. PEDS’ Safe Routes to Transit Initiative pushed for making safe crossings at transit stops a local, regional and state priority. State and local peds logoagencies responded. Georgia DOT added Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons on Buford Highway. Midtown Alliance partnered with the city of Atlanta to install Rapid Flash Beacons on 10th Street at the Midtown MARTA station.
More pedestrian advocacy is still needed, especially for city of Atlanta sidewalk repairs, Flocks said. Sidewalk funding and policies are both broken, she said. City officials cut the proposed $40 million for sidewalk repairs and $35 million for curb ramps on the infrastructure bond project list to $5 million. The city also maintains the option to bill property owners for sidewalk repairs, something Flocks said the city is unlikely to enforce.
To PEDS, sidewalks are shared resources that increase walkability and connectivity, and improve public transit accessibility. So, sidewalk repairs should be funded by all taxpayers – like in Charleston, Charlotte and D.C.
“Every sector – and every one of us – has a role to play in increasing walking and making our communities walkable,” Flocks said.
A PEDS 20th Anniversary Celebration will be held Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m. at The Wrecking Bar, 292 Moreland Ave. For more about PEDS, visit PEDS.org.