A teen is badly hurt crossing traffic on a county road. An unknown male is killed trying to cross a street. The teen in the first incident walked into the roadway as he was heading towards his school. In the second, there was no crosswalk in the vicinity for that roadway victim. These are just a few of the tragic stories that regularly unfold on our highways and byways.
Indeed responsibility rests with all pedestrians who ought to be aware of his or her situation. But in many cases, life for a full-time, part-time or occasional pedestrian in the Atlanta metro region is difficult. Our so-called neighborhoods, thoroughfares, suburbs, downtown and rural areas were not fully designed with pedestrians in mind. Perhaps there is a set of sidewalks along the road and maybe the teen chose not to use them. Possibly the unknown individual in Norcross could have crossed in a safer area, but he chose to negotiate the road in a more dangerous spot. Still, these are tragedies which can be averted with self-awareness and a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Yes, there are sidewalks and paths in many places, but even there, they are largely inconsistent. Further, those existing sidewalks and paths have street or parking lot crossings whereby the person on foot has to contend with sedans, SUVs, minivans, pick-up and service trucks.
Certainly there are bright spots in this dark dilemma for pedestrians. The city of Brookhaven is on an ambitious sidewalk installation project. It sounds like it will be wonderful to walk unfettered from north to south in the metro region’s new city. Still, Atlanta is notorious for being pedestrian-unfriendly. It was only four years ago when Transportation for America ranked Atlanta number 11 for the most dangerous city for pedestrians. It was just two years ago when the Alliance for Biking and Walking placed Atlanta at number 45 for biking and pedestrian safety. The group discovered that Georgia spends just 1.75 percent of its federal transportation cash on biking and walking – about $2.50 per person.
All is not lost on our fair city. In addition to our walkers, joggers, runners, skateboarders and roller-blade enthusiasts, the Atlanta metro region is home to loads of cyclists. As one can witness from social media and on the Web, there has been a major increase in cycling groups getting out there on the weekends. That is excellent news. What’s not so excellent are the rants from motorists who have a difficult time dealing with the cyclists. Let’s face the fact that this community is largely not used to sharing the road with cyclists. This is not an indictment on motorists since I am one of them, but I’m also a pedestrian and cyclist. I can see both sides of this argument and as most of us know, it’s not pretty. My view is, yes, we as motorists can use a bit more patience on the road with cyclists – even the wayward ones, but it’s difficult for many reasons. The traffic flow and physical conditions are typically horrendous on most of our roads. Let’s be honest: who needs more hassle out there on our narrow pothole-plagued clogged roads?
There is good news for both motorists and cyclists alike. People for Bikes’ Green Lane Project chose Atlanta as one of its cities in a two-year project to help build better bike lanes. The idea sounds great, but I’ll love it when I see it. Call me a skeptic, but with the state’s, counties’ and municipalities’ limited budgets, bike lane construction will be a challenging task. Nevertheless, after perusing its Web site, I believe that this organization will achieve some progress through its efforts. I feel that we need not only more bike lanes for cyclists, but more safe options for pedestrians.
We have all heard how wonderful it is if we all got outside to exercise more in addition to the benefits for those who choose to commute by bike. No, more bikes lanes will not make this or any other city a utopia, but (and we’ve all heard this before) with bikes lanes, the air could be a bit cleaner, we as a whole could be a bit fitter and perhaps we could have motorists and cyclists alike who could be a bit happier.