Creating safe links between transit and walking a vital part of our transportation future

By Guest Columnist SALLY FLOCKS, founder, president and CEO of PEDS, an Atlanta-based advocacy group for pedestrians

The decades-long neglect of pedestrian safety in the design of state roads exacts a heavy toll. Each year in metro Atlanta, some 1,400 pedestrians are hit by motor vehicles, resulting in 1,000 pedestrian injuries and 70 pedestrian deaths.

While the region has made dramatic progress during the past five years in reducing overall traffic fatalities, the number of pedestrian deaths remains constant. In 2009, pedestrians accounted for one out of five traffic fatalities in the 10-county region.

Pedestrian safety is often perceived as a local issue. Yet 45 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in Georgia occurred on state highways. For people on foot, the combination of wide roads, infrequent crosswalks, no pedestrian walkways, and high speeds often has tragic outcomes.

Discussion about the project list for the proposed regional transportation sales tax has focused primarily on roads and transit. Yet a successful transit system will depend on safe pedestrian access.

Sally Flocks

The on-board transit survey conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission last year confirmed that nearly three-fourths of transit trips begin with walking trips. And when people exit the bus or train, four out of five walk to their destinations.

Research by the ARC also suggests that people who walk to transit are among the region’s most vulnerable road users. From 2004 to 2008, one-fourth of all pedestrian crashes occurred within 100 feet of transit stops. People with a choice will not take transit if they have to put their lives in their hands to get across the street.

Despite the high number of fatalities and the interdependence of transit and walking, few public resources have been used to retrofit dangerous roads with pedestrian safety improvement. On much of Buford Highway, the deadliest road in Georgia for pedestrians, traffic signals and crosswalks are few and far between and sidewalks are missing from both sides of the street.

Metro Atlanta needs to transform outdated roads that were designed only for cars into complete streets that serve all modes safely. Fortunately, transportation professionals at state and local agencies now recognize the importance of increasing pedestrian safety and are eager to help.

Improving the pedestrian environment requires a relatively small public investment, which will quickly pay for itself with lives saved, increased transit usage, and better public health. Even at locations without marked crosswalks, installing raised median islands is likely to reduce pedestrian crashes by 39 percent. Additional lighting, HAWK signals, and Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons can also help transform our deadliest roads into places where people can safely access transit on foot.

If passed, the transportation sales tax will also enable the region to build new transit lines. In selecting projects, elected officials need to remember that our region is aging. In the years ahead, a growing number of people will be living until their mid-80s or 90s. Most will lose their ability to drive long before they lose their ability to walk.

To serve aging adults, the region needs to provide transit projects that people can get to on foot. Without that, more and more people will be homebound, and paratransit and human services transportation costs will continue to spiral upward.

Elected officials also need to recognize that locating transit on corridors people can walk to will provide tremendous economic benefits. We can learn a lot from the Orange Line in the Washington D.C. region, which runs through Arlington and Fairfax counties.

Taking the cheapest option, Fairfax County ran the line down the center of an existing interstate. Arlington County, in contrast, located the Orange Line through a decaying and then-unwalkable commercial corridor. In the decades that followed, development near Arlington’s section exploded and land values tripled. In Fairfax County, the transit line is surrounded by park and ride lots, with little other development.

It took over 50 years – and billions of dollars—for the Atlanta region to build infrastructure as auto-centric as what we have today. And it will take time and money for the region to create streets that are safer and more inviting for people who walk to transit.

The regional transportation sales tax provides an outstanding opportunity to achieve major progress. By investing just $400 million in sidewalks, refuge islands and corridor improvements that transform outdated roads into complete streets in the decade ahead, we can create safe routes to transit throughout the region.

5 replies
  1. a transit fan says:

    Bravo!

    After the TIA sales tax fails in 2012, we’ll ask for new guidelines with $0 for road capital. But we need a Sally Flocks for transit.Report

    Reply
  2. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... says:

    “Elected officials also need to recognize that locating transit on corridors people can walk to will provide tremendous economic benefits. We can learn a lot from the Orange Line in the Washington D.C. region, which runs through Arlington and Fairfax counties.”

    “Taking the cheapest option, Fairfax County ran the line down the center of an existing interstate. Arlington County, in contrast, located the Orange Line through a decaying and then-unwalkable commercial corridor. In the decades that followed, development near Arlington’s section exploded and land values tripled. In Fairfax County, the transit line is surrounded by park and ride lots, with little other development.”

    Ms. Flocks, are you talking about the DC Metro heavy rail line that runs through the median of Interstate 66, to be exact? When DC and Northern Virginia area transportation planners ran that rail line down the middle of the I-66 right-of-way they had no ill-intent as their goal was to strongly encourage West Metro DC residents to ride mass transit by taking land that would have normally been extra traffic lanes for automobiles and converting it into a double-tracked rail line while limiting the actual number of traffic lanes to a total of four reversible traffic lanes that flow into Arlington County, VA and the District of Columbia during morning rush hour and flow out of them during evening rush hours.

    While the intent of strongly encouraging mass transit use by limiting and replacing traffic lanes with rail in the same right-of-way was a noble goal, as you pointed out, Ms. Flocks, their choice to run the rail line down the middle of an interstate right-of-way far removed from existing development as opposed to through a walkable corridor that will attract pedustrian riders and foot traffic tying the rail line closer to the community, is a very expensive lesson for DC area planners and residents that Metro Atlanta-area planners can learn heavily from when planning to improve and expand their own mass transit network on a wider-scale.

    DC Metro and Northern Virginia transportation planners are also in the process of constructing a second expressway right-of-way heavy rail line down the middle of the Dulles Toll Road that will provide the District of Columbia with a direct heavy rail connection to Washington Dulles International Airport via the West Falls Church Metro Station off of the Orange Line that you cite as an example of an (unintentionally) ill-conceived rail-line that is not readily accessible to foot traffic and is thereby disconnected from the surrounding community.Report

    Reply
  3. Sally Flocks says:

    In response to “the Last Democrat . . .” — yes, the Orange Line I referred to is located on I-66.

    Transit located on an interstate can function as commuter rail — but it provides few opportunities for higher-density development where people can walk to transit stations. Since one of the leading advantages of rail over buses is the incentive it provides for high-density development, it makes sense to locate rail where where adjacent land is accessible to pedestrians and ripe for redevelopment. Where transit is needed for long-distance travel via limited access highways, express buses may be the most appropriate option.Report

    Reply
  4. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... says:

    Ms. Flocks, another reason why that DC Metro rail line was run through the median in the center of the I-66 right-of-way was because there is no existing rail right-of-way that runs into the District of Columbia from that particular direction along the I-66/U.S. 50 corridor.

    “Transit located on an interstate can function as commuter rail — but it provides few opportunities for higher-density development where people can walk to transit stations. Since one of the leading advantages of rail over buses is the incentive it provides for high-density development, it makes sense to locate rail where where adjacent land is accessible to pedestrians and ripe for redevelopment. Where transit is needed for long-distance travel via limited access highways, express buses may be the most appropriate option.”

    Ms. Flocks, you are so 100% completely correct in your assessment and you hit the nail right on the head with that statement. I agree that the rights-of-way for rail and expressways should be kept separate whenever possible so that the rail lines can spur and encourage more density and walkable development patterns that will discourage the overuse and overdependency of automobiles that is so prevalent in the Atlanta Region in the present day.

    Locally, there are two proposals to run rail lines in the right-of-way of road corridors that concern me.

    One is a proposal to run a light rail line from the Cumberland Mall area to the Town Center Mall via the Highway 41/Cobb Parkway corridor in Cobb County that parallels an existing rail right-of-way in the Northwest Metro CSX freight rail line that runs directly through established walkable neighborhood town centers in Vinings, Smyrna, Marietta, Kennesaw and Acworth. The other is a proposal to run either a light rail or commuter rail line from Downtown Atlanta to Conyers via the median in the I-20 right-of-way which is paralled roughly by an existing right-of-way in the East Metro CSX freight rail line that also runs directly through established walkable neighborhood town centers east from Five Points Downtown to Cabbagetown, Little Five Points, Decatur, Avondale Estates, Clarkston, Stone Mountain, Redan, Lithonia, Conyers, Covington and other points east all the way to Augusta.

    With existing rail rights-of-way running through parallel established walkable neighborhood and town centers looking to renew themselves with dense, pedustrian-oriented new and future development, increased local bus service (on Hwy 41) and express bus service (on I-20) are the best options for those roads as spending hundreds-of-millions, if not billions, to modify those roads to carry rail lines through corridors dominated by autocentric development would be a VAST and WILDLY MISDIRECTED misallocation (in other words, a COMPLETE WASTE) of preciously-limited available taxpayer dollars.

    The proposal to extend rail service North through the Georgia 400 expressway right-of-way is different because there is no existing rail right-of-way that extends out of the city in that direction, BUT Georgia Highway 9 (Roswell Road/Atlanta Street/Alpharetta Street/Alpharetta Highway/Main Street/Cumming Highway), a surface road that parallels the GA 400 expressway, would make a PERFECT right-of-way for an possible eventual streetcar line because of the route the road takes through very dense urban development and historical and walkable town and neighborhood centers in Buckhead, North Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Roswell and Alpharetta.Report

    Reply
  5. Sally Flocks says:

    The region can achieve the biggest bang for its limited bucks by installing-cost effective pedestrian safety devices on our existing transit routes. Reducing the headways on buses and trains so that more people find transit a useful transportation mode would also help a lot. If the region is unwilling to invest in optimizing our existing infrastructure, what’s the point of adding more? If you can’t afford to heat your two-story home, would you add an additional story?Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.