Maybe the problem isn’t jaywalkers—maybe it’s Atlanta’s age-old way of putting cars first

One daily-pedestrian’s opinion of crossing the street

In the past year, the Atlanta Police Department have issued 266 tickets, and in some instances, have even been arresting people for jaywalking.

Counterproductive to Georgia state officials trying to reduce inmate overcrowding in Atlanta, the local police are actively throwing people behind bars for jaywalking. I understand that jaywalking is always dangerous. I understand that jaywalking is illegal. I understand that jaywalking is considered obstructing the roadway—but I think the larger issue is not being addressed.

Early on in Jeff Speck’s Walkable City he talks about a city planner and epidemiologist named Dr. Richard Jackson who wrote Urban Sprawl and Public Health in 2004.

For Dr. Jackson, the epiphany came in 1999, when he was driving on Atlanta’s Buford Highway—voted by the Congress for the New Urbanism as one of the ten “Worst Streets in America”—a seven-laner flanked by low-income garden apartments with no sidewalks and two miles between traffic lights. There by the side of the road, in the ninety-five-degree afternoon, he saw a woman in her seventies, struggling under the burden of two shopping bags. He tried to relate her plight to his own work as an epidemiologist. “If that poor woman had collapsed from heat stroke, we docs would have written the cause of death as heat stroke and not lack of trees and public transportation, poor urban form, and heat-island effects. If she had been killed by a truck going by, the cause of death would have been ‘motor-vehicle trauma,’ and not lack of sidewalks and transit, poor urban planning, and failed political leadership. That was the ‘aha!’ moment for me. Here I was focusing on remote disease risks when the biggest risks that people faced were coming from the built environment.”

I am going to keep this blog post focused on the torment I receive by cars at intersections and not: the state of our fading crosswalks, the pedestrian buttons that are for show, the long waiting times (that if you are a commuter add up fast), the sidewalks that are in such disrepair I am forced to walk with the traffic flow, how dangerous half of walking in Atlanta actually is, and crosswalks that do not have in-street crosswalk signs making sure cars understand we have the right of way. Every day when I leave my house to go to work, I am taking my life in my hands, and it is because I don’t live in one of the main cities that give a damn about people on foot. How do people that enclose themselves in massive amounts of steel and speed get priority of the road? This blog post is about public safety but also about the reality that if Atlanta does not change traffic laws—people will be less inclined to ever start walking—and that is absolutely the opposite effect of what we need.

On Tuesday, I was hit by a car. It was a love tap by a young woman in a Beamer leaving a Buckhead skyscraper parking deck. Coincidentally, it was the last intersection I cross before I reach the Buckhead MARTA station and am safe from the insanity that is car warfare. I had the walk sign, (there was not even a count down yet to stop walking) so I was walking across the crosswalk. She was looking left and inching her vehicle into the crosswalk, then into my body, in order to make a right-on-red. When people make right-on-reds, they are precariously and blindly driving over a crosswalk, where people are getting their 20 second chance to walk. Simultaneously, the traffic that have the green light in the perpendicular direction, are now making a left on the green—across the same crosswalk. This is insanity. People in cars can wait. No turning without an arrow would actually protect us from getting hit when we have the right of way.

Where are the cops when cars plow into crosswalks or into our bodies? Where are they when people are speeding down lanes built way too large next to barely walkable sidewalks or bike lanes? Where are they when people don’t come to a complete stop and leave us fumbling like kamikaze squirrels to get outta their way? Yet, they are arresting jaywalkers that are crossing a street out of absolute desperation. Pedestrians in Atlanta can not rely on missing signage, broken walk signals, traffic rules that aren’t enforced, hazardous sidewalks, and faded crosswalks. Just try crossing Memorial at 8:00 am next to Oakland Cemetery in Grant Park. The only time I cross that street—is illegally—because I have no chance otherwise. When and if I finally get a walk signal, I still have traffic on the perpendicular Grant Street turning right into me.

There are resources for pedestrians that are fabulous, like PEDS. You can “take action” by reporting a hazard. They give you opportunity to tell them about anything from a broken signal to a crumbling sidewalk. Last week, I reported the various conditions at the Grant Street + Memorial Drive, the intersection I use every day to get from my house to the King Memorial MARTA station. In the near future, this will inevitably be a main focus, thanks to the construction of the Leonard apartment building that is flying up next to Augustine’s.

Which brings me back to my underlying point—that Atlanta needs density to support walkability and transit. If we encourage more people to bike or walk and less people to rely on traveling by mechanical means, we are ultimately setting our city up for long-term success. If you build better crosswalks and better bike lanes—they will come. If you protect pedestrians rather than arresting them—they will come. Every pedestrian and bike rider, is one less person in a car. It is outrageous that I am honked at on foot for being an inconvinience, let alone nearly run over. In the WSBTV news clip about Atlanta cops arresting jaywalkers, a reporter is seen walking across downtown’s Central avenue, talking to the camera. He has the walk signal, yet we witness a white van followed by a bus and a car turning behind him through the crosswalk. If that doesn’t prove a blatant point, I don’t know what does.

Thanks for reading.

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