By Maria Saporta
A significant leadership transition has occurred at PEDS, the top advocacy organization for pedestrians in metro Atlanta.
Sally Flocks who founded PEDS in 1996, officially stepped down as its top executive in September.
And Cathy C. Tyler, a community and civic leader in Atlanta, has succeeded Flocks as the nonprofit’s CEO. As part of the transition, Flocks has been taken Tyler on walks around the city pointing out some of the obstructions pedestrians face when trying to navigate Atlanta’s sidewalks and streets.
“Sally has a wealth of information,” Tyler said on a recent walk with Flocks around Midtown. “There’s way too much wisdom to not take advantage of it.”
Tyler professional background includes multiple leadership roles in the corporate, nonprofit, government and higher education arenas.
Most recently, Tyler served as associate vice president of strategic communications for Morehouse College.
She also has been the national managing director of communications and public relations for the Arthritis foundation; director of media advocacy/government relations/community engagement and volunteerism for the American Cancer Society; vice president of corporate communications for National Service Industries, and director of communications for the Atlanta City Council.
Tyler also was a journalist with the Gwinnett Daily News. And earlier in her career, she served as a legislative aide to then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who is now a U.S. senator.
“The board of PEDS is thrilled to have Cathy join the team,” said Andrew Hixson, PEDS board chairman, in a statement. “She is an experienced leader and dynamic team member. Her energy and enthusiasm will help us reach new levels in our work. Cathy brings a wealth of nonprofit leadership that will help us expand our mission, those we serve, and our members.”
When asked how her leadership might be compared to Flocks’ leadership, Tyler said she would focus on equity and making sure that pedestrians throughout the region have adequate access to metro Atlanta’s transportation system.
“I’m not abandoning what Sally has done,” Tyler said. “I am expanding into some new areas in the community where transportation is extremely important.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Sept. 25 announce an “Action Plan for Safer Streets” – a two-year, $5 million plan to accelerate safety designs to Atlanta’s streets. Her administration identified 20 city corridors for rapid implementation to improve safety for people who walk, drive, transit or ride a bike or e-scooter.
The plan states that by the end of 2021, Atlanta will have more than 20 miles of safer streets throughout the city.
Although she is brand new to PEDS, Tyler welcomed the move by the city to invest in alternative modes of transportation.
“PEDS believes this plan is a good start to improving the safety of people walking and cycling in Atlanta, but we would like to learn more about how this plan was developed,” Tyler wrote in an email. “PEDS is particularly concerned about how these changes address equity and ensure safety for people whose only mobility choice is public transportation.”
Tyler said PEDS will ask “for a seat at the table to serve as a voice for those who rely totally on walking and public transportation. I feel confident that we can work together to satisfy the safety concerns of everyone navigating city streets.”
Tyler has been there before.
“When I was at the city in the 1990s, I saw Sally at a public hearing,” Tyler recalled. “I could remember how passionate she was. The vision of her came back to me clear as day.”
Flocks, who did not know Tyler before the search process, said she is going to be available to help when she can in a supportive role.
“I want to continue to be a really active advocate,” Flocks said. “I’m better as an advocate than an organizational developer. I don’t want to be the face of the organization. I need to stay out of the way so Cathy can become the face.”
The week after she had officially retired, Flocks was walking on a cracked Midtown sidewalk – she tripped and fell, injuring her hand and possibly breaking two fingers. She joked about how she would want to appear to City Council with her bandaged fingers to reinforce the issue of the city fixing Atlanta’s sidewalks.
Bicycle and pedestrian organizations are at a critical juncture in several cities around the country with some separate organizations combining forces to advocate for more investments in non-automobile modes of conversation.
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition approached PEDS with a similar idea, but Flocks said she believes the organization can be more effective if it is independent. Plus, she said the organizations have different areas of focus. For example, the coalition is looking to create more facilities for cyclists, such as dedicated lanes – working primarily in the city of Atlanta.
PEDS has been working throughout the region, largely focused on pedestrian connectivity to transit as well as safe crossings and street lighting for people walking on busy streets.
“Most pedestrian fatalities occur at night,” Flocks said..“And fatalities are worse in the inner suburbs. There’s limited money. I think having two separate organizations is good. Our geographic boundaries are different.”
Tyler said she is open to building stronger partnerships with other advocacy groups and explore ways they can work together.
“I can’t emphasize enough how I want PEDS to be as collaborative as possible with other road and street vulnerable advocacy groups when their issues align with those of PEDS,” Tyler wrote in a follow-up email. “I will be focused a great deal on transportation equity for the most vulnerable communities – whether culturally or physically. I believe giving attention to these communities will not only save lives but connect lower income neighborhoods to job centers that in turn can spur a stronger economy.“