Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Elaine Lucas is hoping the ordinance she masterminded will provide needed information to help reduce pedestrian deaths.
The ordinance, signed by Mayor Robert Reichert in April, requires representatives of various agencies to work together whenever a pedestrian is killed in order to assemble a more complete picture of why it happened and look at how future tragedies could be prevented.
“It doesn’t matter whose fault it is,” Lucas said. “Unless you follow stuff, it falls by the wayside until another fatality.”
Lucas’ legislation remains untested. Macon-Bibb’s most recent pedestrian fatality -- the death of 62-year-old Velma Jackson on Pio Nono Avenue on June 3 -- occurred less than two weeks before commissioners appointed the Pedestrian Fatality Review Board that is tasked with examining all subsequent incidents.
An earlier version of Lucas’ idea failed to have any impact on pedestrian fatality investigations. The proposal began not as an ordinance, but as a resolution. Ordinances have the force of law, while resolutions are just formal expressions of opinion.
Commissioners passed the resolution unanimously last November. However, when Bobby Lewis Wright was struck and killed on Montpelier Avenue on the night of Dec. 4, nothing different happened. There was no inter-agency review.
The resolution was ignored that night and in each of the other four deaths that occurred between the time that it was passed and when the commission passed the newer ordinance, Lucas said.
“I blame myself for not staying on top of the resolution and making sure that the proper steps were followed after a fatality,” she said.
Lucas then tried a new strategy: drafting the ordinance that passed unanimously in April.
Lucas said there will now be a legally mandated formal process after each pedestrian death, and more focus will be on preventing such accidents.
FATALITY REVIEW BOARD
The ordinance requires the formation of a nine-person review board: the mayor or his designee, two people from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, a Macon-Bibb commissioner, the director of the Facilities Management Department or designee, the traffic engineer or designee, the administrator of the Macon-Bibb Health Department or designee, and two people from the community. All serve five-year terms.
Lucas will be the first commission representative. The community members appointed by Mayor Robert Reichert are Violet Poe, who runs Right Start Defensive Driving School in Macon, and longtime Macon transportation activist Michael Ryan.
The board is only required to meet twice annually, but Lucas said she hopes board members will get together at the scene of each accident and examine the circumstances together, particularly looking for any infrastructure hazards.
The board should look at sidewalks, lighting, width of the roadway, speed limits, signals and signs, she said. And the nearest crosswalk should be measured to see what improvements need to be made.
“People will continue to be hurt from clothing they wear, intoxication and speeders, but we can do what we can do to reduce numbers,” she said. “However, there has to be something we can do from a legislative standpoint to help this issue.”
NO PEDESTRIAN FATALITY HOT SPOTS
Lucas’ ordinance, if followed, will involve people from a diversity of perspectives in the accident investigation process. However, much of the investigation Lucas is hoping to spur already is being done from the perspective of law enforcement by Cpl. Austin Riley, lead fatality investigator for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.
“I would not want to give my personal opinion on this ordinance,” Riley said. “I like that Mrs. Lucas is trying to look at pedestrian deaths to limit them.”
However, Riley maintains that personal behavior, rather than infrastructure, is to blame for most accidents.
Riley said many factors determine who is at fault, but the majority of accidents have occurred because the pedestrian was walking in the middle of traffic, walking while intoxicated or walking at night wearing dark clothing. Drivers are less often at fault, he said, unless there is clear evidence of speeding, running red lights or stop signs, or drinking and driving.
“I have a pin board in my office that we started last year to see if it’s an engineering problem or enforcement problem, but it is hard to pinpoint a specific area, because it’s thrown out across the county,” Riley said. “There is a hot spot list on collisions, but there won’t be an accurate measure for pedestrian fatalities until probably next year.”
Riley said his department also is looking at ways to reduce these incidents.
“We put PSAs out to advise walkers how to be more careful, while also advising drivers of vehicles,” he said. “However, a driver doesn’t anticipate a pedestrian to walk out in front of their vehicle if the nearest crosswalk is 40 miles down the road.”
The ordinance does have supporters, one of whom said the review board shouldn’t wait for the next death to occur but instead should review previous deaths and survey the areas.
Lee Martin, a lifetime Macon resident who also is a planning and transportation policy advocate, has paid close attention to the ordinance.
“I like Elaine and I appreciate what she is doing,” Martin said. “However, why wait until the next death to occur? We need to be proactive by being retroactive. The review board needs to monitor the new deaths but also needs to monitor the past deaths and look for solutions. There isn’t a need to sit and wait for another death, just to review that one.”
Lucas said her ordinance will help, if for no other reason than because it will keep the issue in the public discourse. Accidents happen that could have been prevented because people grow complacent and lack the ability to change, she said.
“As evidence mounts up, people start noticing and start getting sick and tired of it, then they start doing something about it,” she said.