Are Perimeter Center’s traffic cops really making a difference—or maybe even making things worse?

An off-duty DeKalb County Police officer hired for traffic control by the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts in a photo featured on the PCIDs website.

The Sandy Springs City Council aims to find out with a $2,000 “experiment” in police-free rush hours on part of Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. The council approved the study at the same July 19 meeting where it bounced around other innovative traffic ideas like a possible new city “construction ambassador” who would knock on doors to inform people of traffic-affecting projects.

“We’re emptying our decks, but loading our streets,” said City Councilmember Gabriel Sterling, who has complained about possibly ineffective traffic policing–especially serving private garages–on Abernathy and Peachtree-Dunwoody road for more than a year. “We are an inventive city,” Sterling said, calling for the police effectiveness study.

Mayor Rusty Paul supported it as well. “[Traffic police] may be taking care of a problem in front of them,” he said, but worsening a “systemic problem” farther down the road.

Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone was skeptical, asking for assurance that police can intervene in the study period “if it all goes crazy.”

“Traffic control to me is more an art than a science—no offense,” the police chief told Assistant City Manager Bryant Poole, a civil engineer by training.

The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts have been hiring off-duty officers from various jurisdictions to direct rush-hour traffic for many years, starting well before Perimeter Center’s cities incorporated.

Yvonne Williams, PCIDs’ president and CEO, told the council that her organization spends $353,000 a year on off-duty traffic cops for the Fulton County side of Perimeter Center. The original goal of the program, she said, was for officers “to be at key intersections, not to be at individual buildings.” Such patrols are key to the PCIDs “Don’t Block the Box” initiative of cracking down on drivers who block intersections between signal cycles, she said.

Today, some private employers and landlords hire traffic officers, too. Sterling and others are concerned that such officers prioritize traffic getting out of those private garages rather than the greater good of traffic flow on public streets. Sterling said Abernathy/Peachtree-Dunwoody traffic has gotten worse in the past year, since Newell Brands moved its corporate headquarters there, and said officers often wave drivers through lights in the city’s fine-tuned—and expensive—signal-timing system.

A similar situation has emerged in recent months on Perimeter Center’s Dunwoody side as well. A late-afternoon outflow of commuters from the Ravinia complex on Ashford-Dunwoody Road appears to get priority while nearby intersections around Perimeter Mall gridlock during the wait.

Sandy Springs Police Capt. John Mullin told the council he has performed off-duty traffic work in Perimeter Center for 19 years. Mullin said he actually gives priority to through-traffic, and said the traffic duty also plays a role in stopping road rage crimes.

“It’s very unpredictable, what happens out there,” he said of day-to-day traffic conditions. But he agreed it’s gotten worse in the past year.

Poole said he got an estimate from a consultant for a $2,000 study to see what’s really happening with traffic and police—including testing rush hours with and without officers on duty. It will focus on a sample section of Peachtree-Dunwoody between Abernathy and Glen Meadow Court. The study will have to be conducted for weeks, both when school is in and out of session; no proposed timeline for when to do that was discussed. Consultants should be able to study conditions within private garages, not just on the street, Poole said. The city has management authority over private business’s hiring of traffic police under a 2008 ordinance, city officials said.

“I would love to spend $2,000 to figure this out,” said Sterling as the council by consensus authorized staff to come up with a formal study proposal for a future vote.

Capt. Mullin also suggested the timing of the Abernathy/Peachtree-Dunwoody traffic light might be too short. The lack of a protocol for traffic cops to contact the Sandy Springs traffic management center has been another sticking point that City Manager John McDonough said staff will address.

The council also authorized creating a formal proposal for a full-time “construction ambassador” within the Public Works department. The position is part of proposed improvements in the city’s communication of road and traffic projects, including a better interactive web-based map.

“Who would want this job?” asked City Councilmember John Paulson, only half-joking. Mayor Paul brought the police into the conversation again in a different way, asking the chief if he could loan a “construction ambassador” a spare bulletproof vest.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

6 replies on “Sandy Springs to study whether traffic cops help or hurt Perimeter rush hour”

  1. What BS, I called the police 3 years ago to examine this EXACT question and they sat on their idiotic behinds and watched this traffic deteriorate. Of course the police give priority to buildings they are employed by ..spend 1 minute outside of the Medical Quarters at 5 pm today to “figure that one out”>. “Inventive City”…brilliant.. perhaps Sterling could invent himself in another position..Oh, maybe “gondalas”

  2. Given the stream of idiots who DO block the entire box on those days where the cops aren’t out there directing traffic (seriously, some days there will be 8-12 cars sitting in the middle of the intersection blocking passage from ALL directions) I’m thankful the cops are out there to enforce some sanity.

    But here is a better solution — we already have dynamic traffic signals. Instead of paying cops to supercede existing expensive controls, or pretending like employers are going to spontaneously start accommodating employee schedules, start ticketing the box blockers like you’re supposed to and actually address the traffic problem through behavioral correction.

  3. What WOULD help is staggered work hours, telecommuting, and public transit. And I’ll save $2,000 right now by suggesting the city look at traffic on PD Road and Abernathy on Fridays, when many people don’t come in to the office. The drive within the Perimeter district on Friday afternoons is a breeze.

  4. Save the money! Of course police officers directing traffic are needed during the havoc that’s called rush hour! It’s obvious that when roads are overly congested that the sheer number of cars will overwhelm the traffic signals that are designed to maintain a reasonable flow of traffic. Without the police officers assistance, gridlock will ensue as intersections will be blocked which creates additional hazards for all concerned. Next, police officers will cite motorists for blocking intersections which will lead to the unintended consequences of creating even more gridlock. It just an obvious conclusion. Who would expect overworked, exhausted motorists to behave rationally, with kindness in the heat of rush hour traffic? Again, save the money!

  5. It will get worse. Large development proposed for hexagon bldg across from marta station near abernathy, large state farm bldg to be finished, recent apts near ptree and hammond plus more being put in, proposal to add bldgs in front of king and queen bldg, propsal for residential towers near mariott. All or any of this will further clog roads and area will be loved to death. At some point, companies will leave – why stay there when you can get less traffic elsewhere? Perimeter area is being loved to death. It will be destroyed by all this traffic.

  6. Make the hiring of police illegal to allow business workers out of there office. This could perhaps lead to them deciding what a mistake they made in putting there corporate office where they did. Now what you’re seeing is the mistaken idea that clustering everthing into single area’s of “economic development” isn’t an answer to anything.

    At no time should employees of a parking garage be given priority over on road traffic. In a democracy the majority rules and there are never more cars leaving a parking garage then are on public roads. IF you want numbers Sandy Springs Private Equity group then these are easy numbers to grasp and enough to ban the practice.

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