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David Pendered Columns

Vision Zero mobility plan fueling hopes of safer travel in Atlanta

David Pendered
Little Five Points, traffic mix

By David Pendered

A spirit that feels a lot like hope surrounds the Vision Zero mobility policy announced by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The city may have found a guiding light for moving folks no matter how they get around.

peachtree, traffic mix of uses

Peachtree Street serves a mixture of travel modes that compete for space, including a dog out for a walk on a sunny day. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Rebecca Serna, executive director of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, defines Vision Zero as an expectation that has gone missing from what used to be the civitas of Atlanta’s streets and highways:

  • “It’s the idea that crashes are preventable, and we should try to provide a system so people don’t get needlessly hurt, or even killed, in traffic.”

Mike Dobbins, a former Atlanta planning commissioner now teaching at Georgia Tech, said he “completely supports” the design concepts of Vision Zero. Strides in safety can be achieved fairly quickly, he said, and within the confines of existing roads and rights of way:

  • “There are things that can be done fairly soon. Design speed and travel speed have a lot to do with narrowing lanes and making room for sidewalks and bikes. We can do these things now.”

Atlanta newly released Strategic Transportation Plan provides an equally unvarnished goal of safety during travel. Bottoms unveiled the plan Nov. 13, as the transportation platform for the next two years of her administration. The mayor also announced her appointment of Josh Rowan, subject to confirmation by the Atlanta City Council, as the city’s first commissioner of the recently created Atlanta Department of Transportation. Rowan currently oversees construction projects funded by Renew Atlanta and the transportation sales tax.

traffic, wheelchair

Atlanta’s ‘Strategic Transportation Plan’ offers a future where all modes of travel provide safe journeys in the city. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The Strategic Transportation Plan observes at its outset:

  • “Everyone in Atlanta should be able to get to their destination safely, regardless of who they are, how they travel, or where they are going. However, on certain streets and for certain populations, the risk of injury or death is unacceptably high.”

Vision Zero could serve as a unifying vision for the project lists floated during the campaigns for citywide sales taxes for transportation and Renew Atlanta. That said, the journey it contemplates has a different starting point and trajectory.

Rather than promising a Complete Street here or a sidewalk there, in order to woo voters, Vision Zero promises to promote a concept – safe travel within the city.

As such, Vision Zero is an aspirational proposal that invites residents to think of a future that could be. The city has been down this path before – aspiring to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games; aspiring to stop polluting the Chattahoochee River with a sewerage system so old that some was built in the mid 1860s – years before Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, in 1876.

The mayor’s schedule, cited in the plan, calls for the Atlanta City Council to adopt Vision Zero in 2020. That would be on track with the timeline to for the city’s recently created Department of Transportation functioning by late 2020 under the guidance of the newly appointed transportation commissioner, according to the enabling legislation.

Concerns already are rising that speed limits could be reduced to implement Vision Zero. A fundamental concept of Vision Zero is that lower speeds reduce the extent of injuries, or death, a pedestrian would sustain when struck by a vehicle. Advocates say that’s not the case.

Little Five Points, traffic mix

Little Five Points is an inherently dangerous area, with a mix of cars and pedestrians and bicycles competing for space on the crowded roads. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Serna noted that lower speed limits have a role to play in safety. Dobbins observed that lower speed limits can result in lower travel times.

Serna noted that drivers if speeds are lowered, a driver may be speeding at 35 mph in a new 25 mph zone, as opposed to 45 mph in a previous 35 mph zone. The lower speed would reduce injuries and save lives during collisions. The coalition’s report on speed limits touches on the point.

Dobbins observed that lower speed limits have been proven to reduce trip times in certain scenarios.

That point emerged from a prior study of Memorial Drive conducted by students in a previous studio. And it has emerged again from a current study of Moreland Avenue that students in his studio are preparing to complete.

Posted speed limits are a fiction, anyway, he said. That’s the real-time finding along Moreland Avenue in the study area, from Freedom Parkway to Edgewood Avenue.

“The average speed in rush hour is 8 mph over that stretch of Moreland,” Dobbins said.

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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