More than 200 people stood along Buford Highway with signs letting passing motorists know how unsafe pedestrians feel in the area.
Participants in the Buford Highway safety protest on April 12 held signs that read “No More Deaths on Buford Hwy” and “Complete the Street by Saving Lives.”
The protest, organized by Buford Highway residents, was aimed at drawing attention to how dangerous the road is to pedestrians. In the past three months, two pedestrians were killed and another seriously injured in accidents on Buford Highway between Druid Hills Road and Clairmont Road.
From 2000 to 2009, according Transportation for America, 20 pedestrians were hit and killed inside I-285 on Buford Highway. In 2009, 73 pedestrians were hit and killed on roadways in the 18-county metro Atlanta region, according to a 2011 report the Atlanta Regional Commission.
“It was a great turnout, and people were doing what they ought to do, which was draw attention to a very unsafe situation.” said DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who also attended the rally.
Members of the non-profit advocacy group PEDS also attended the rally. PEDS and their supporters want the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to amend its plan to address the Buford Highway safety issue. The GDOT’s Buford Highway Pedestrian Improvement Project includes buying right of way for a five-mile stretch of Buford Highway and building sidewalks and raised medians. The project also includes installing pedestrian beacons and lighting, and will extend from Lenox Road to Afton Lane.
According to PEDS CEO Sally Flocks, the cost of the right of way to build the sidewalks is $180 million.
“As you know, all of these treatments are proven effective at reducing pedestrian crashes,” said GDOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg in a statement. “We hope that the citizens will understand that we are anxious to get these improvements in place. We know that they will enhance safety but even improvements such as these are not effective if pedestrians do not comply. We often see pedestrians crossing less than 50 feet from a signalized crossing. This type of non-compliance can result in tragedy.”
Rader and PEDS officials, however, said the area will be better served by narrowing the seven-lane road to five lanes.
“Yes, it needs to be narrowed unless someone can show us the need for cars to travel fast is more important than safety issues,” Rader said. “It’s cheaper to put in sidewalks in the [existing lanes] and it would make the sidewalks more usable because you’re not cutting them into hillsides.”
The speed limit on Buford Highway is 45 mph, which is much too fast for the area, advocates say. The protest was held along the road at the intersection of Briarwood Road, which Flocks said is one of the more dangerous intersections along the road.
“There are a lot more people who do walk in this area,” Flocks said. “The people here are from a culture where they are not car addicted. Most of the people who live in this area don’t have the luxury of making the choice [to drive.].”
The GDOT’s plan, which will begin this summer, is to improve a 2.5-mile section of road in a project that should take approximately two-and-a-half years, Flocks said. Phase II will include another 2.5-mile section reaching Lenox Road with the same time frame.
“That’s five years; a lot of people could be killed in that time frame,” Flocks said. “The final product will still enable drivers to go much faster than is safe.”
Flocks said PEDS is worried that not enough will be done to protect pedestrians until the project starts, and that the project won’t do enough to make the road safer in the first place.
“We have received requests from several citizens asking that we do something for pedestrian movements in the interim until the project is completed,” Goldberg said. “We have reviewed the area in question, but the options for treatments are limited.
“Unfortunately to enhance or add mid-block crossings will require a very complicated treatment due to the width of the road and with the volume and speed of traffic,” she said. “These types of improvements are also very expensive and, even though we know that safety is much more important than money, funds are required to complete them – money that we just don’t have at this time. One pedestrian hybrid beacon can cost as much as $200,000.”
Said Flocks, “This comes across as the DOT is sacrificing the Latino community, that their needs are less important than the hypothetical needs of the drivers.”