Parents of North Atlanta High students are leading a push for sidewalks outside of the Buckhead school, saying walking along the busy Northside Parkway will inevitably lead to an accident.
Sidewalks are planned to fill a gap between Mount Paran Road and Northgate Drive. But parents said those plans are moving too slowly and they fear they won’t get funding.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me why we would invest in this school without creating walkways to it,” said Doug Allvine, one of the parents behind the push.
District 8 Atlanta City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents the area, said he supports the effort to build sidewalks outside the school, which is located at 4111 Northside Parkway.
“I’m 100 percent behind this effort,” Matzigkeit said in an email. “Sidewalks that allow students (and non-students) to walk/bike to school are important to me. It is a project that’s ‘in the works,’ though there are several issues we need to solve for to get funding and break ground.”
Although there are sidewalks right at the entrance to the school and on the campus, there are none near it along Northside Parkway.
“It’s impossible to get there without walking literally in the road to get to the school,” Allvine said. “It’s really dangerous and just really scary.”
Allvine spoke about the issue at Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s February town hall in Buckhead and had set up an upcoming meeting with city administrators to discuss it. He’s also started an online petition that has received over 500 signatures.
North Atlanta Principal Curtis Douglass said in a letter to the city that the school administration supports the project because student safety is “always a priority.”
“Currently, we have students walking through the woods to get to school, since there is no sidewalk from their apartments to our school,” he said.
Atlanta Public Schools said in a statement it supports the effort.
“The safety and well-being of our students and staff is a top priority for the district, and as such we support any effort devoted to making the area around North Atlanta more pedestrian-friendly,” the district said in an email.
The Atlanta mayor’s office did not provide comment in response to a request.
Lisa Reynolds, whose child is a freshman at North Atlanta, said she doesn’t want this stretch of the road to only get attention after a “catastrophe” has happened.
Reynolds said she remembers three years ago when officials started measuring the area to draft the sidewalk plans, and, since then, it seems like the plans haven’t made much progress.
“It’s frustrating,” she said.
Allvine said he feels like they’re “stuck.”
“At this point the sidewalk project is not funded and there are no guarantees it will be approved and built despite strong support from ‘across the board,’” Allvine said.
The project has received funding for the design and additional funds are needed for construction.
The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, with $3.2 million for construction, $1 million for right-of-way acquisition and $300,000 for utilities.
The city is applying for funding through the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Transportation Improvement Program, which allocates federal funding to projects, said Barrington Brown, the city’s director of capital projects.
The city expects a decision on funding by around mid-2020, Brown said in an email.
“Since the project received funding for design, I believe it is likely (not guaranteed) to receive some type of funding for the remaining portion,” he said.
Reynolds, who has been involved in the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association for years, said she estimates about half of the students who can drive are able to afford a car. They rely on walking to the school, the MARTA bus stop or using ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to get them to the many off-schedule activities, off-campus classes at colleges or part-time work some students are eligible to do.
“It’s all before buses, so you have to find alternative transportation,” she said.
And students who live less than one mile from school can’t take a school bus, so they need alternative transportation as well, Reynolds said.
“We’re trying to help them get to where they need to be,” she said.
Linda Mazzeo, the president of the PTSA, said in a letter to the city that almost 2,000 students attend North Atlanta and many of those students live within walking distance to the school or take MARTA.
“The lack of sidewalks has made it dangerous for those nearby who would like to take advantage of proximity to the school,” Mazzeo said. “It is especially dangerous for those who have no other choice but to walk along Northside Parkway as part of their daily routine.”
Update: This article has been update with comment from Atlanta Public Schools.