Taking the next step in pedestrian safety

The Rev. Cliff Little ministers to people in Bloomfield, but the welfare of east Macon residents is on his mind.

Little was one of about 75 people gathered Tuesday morning at the Macon-Bibb Government Center for the community’s first Pedestrian Safety Stakeholder Summit.

He’s concerned about the number of pedestrian deaths on Gray Highway in recent years.

“It seems like every year or every other year, every couple years, there’s somebody being killed there,” Little said. “I haven’t seen much action on the Gray Highway area. I didn’t know if it was in the plans or not, and I wanted to make sure they knew of our concerns.”

Macon-Bibb County’s ranking of second in the state for pedestrian fatalities, per capita, alarms a number of people, including the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health and the Board of Commissioners, which created the Pedestrian Fatality Review Board last year.

“One citizen’s death is a great loss for all of us, and we grieve with all of those families that have lost loved ones, and if we can do something to decrease those numbers we’re going to do it,” Commissioner Elaine Lucas said.

The aim of the summit was to draw together those who can work toward solutions.

Local leaders want to implement a Vision Zero concept, where road planners and designers work with community leaders and organizations to make changes to improve the safety of roads for everyone, including walkers and cyclists.

The ultimate goal is to prevent all pedestrian deaths.

“You are the plan. You are the solution,” Macon-Bibb Board of Health’s Chris Tsavatewa told those gathered in the commission chamber. “Every stakeholder must be at the table for Vison Zero to succeed.”

Although many of Macon’s roads are designed with cars in mind, more than a third of its population is not licensed to drive and about 12 percent of households don’t own a car, according to statistics presented Tuesday by urban planner Brad Belo of the Macon-Bibb Planning and Zoning Commission.

“Vehicles are safer but pedestrians are still vulnerable,” Belo said.

Belo has been studying factors such as vehicle speed and street lighting and design.

Only 13 percent of Bibb County’s 1,200 road miles have sidewalks, he said.

Crosswalks also are hard to come by on some main arteries.

On Pio Nono Avenue and Eisenhower Parkway, two deadly thoroughfares for pedestrians in recent years, the average distance between crosswalks is 1,200-1,300 feet, according to Belo’s report.

Vineville Avenue’s span between marked crossings is an average 1,600 feet, while Gray Highway has crosswalks an average of every 2,400 feet.

“You can understand why people aren’t crossing in crosswalks,” Belo said.

Research from the Automobile Association of America shows 56 percent of pedestrian accidents happen during daylight hours, but 76 percent of fatalities happen in the dark.

The Georgia Department of Transportation recently completed road safety audits on Eisenhower Parkway and Emery Highway, both used by a significant number of pedestrians.

Although the Emery Highway study is still being compiled, the review of Eisenhower shows gaps in sidewalks, shoulder debris that could be dangerous for cyclists, faded crosswalks and low lighting.

The higher the speed limit, the greater the chance someone will be killed if hit crossing the street.

Reducing speed limits might not be practical in some neighborhoods, but building roundabouts at intersections and constructing narrower lanes and pedestrian islands in the median have been shown to reduce speeding and serious injury, Belo said.

Little suggested building more pedestrian bridges, such as the one from Pleasant Hill over Interstate 75 and the new bridge connecting lofts to the Mercer University campus near Stadium Drive.

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s Katelyn DiGioia said people are often impatient and want to cross where they are, not walk the additional steps to a safer crosswalk or bridge.

“Pedestrian bridges are kind of like a Band-Aid,” DiGioia said. “They’re not fixing the underlying problem.”

While infrastructure improvements will take years, pedestrian safety consultant Bob Dallas said every time a road is repaired, safety improvements can be made.

The Vision Zero initiative he encourages includes an educational component and enforcing existing laws.

“The hardest person on Earth to educate is a pedestrian. You don’t need a license to walk ... but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do that,” Dallas said.

In January, the review board created a Cross the Walk education campaign.

Mayor Robert Reichert concluded the summit by encouraging existing transportation boards to work together to make Macon a more walkable city.

“All of us need to be committed to this and to be thinking about ways to improve the walkability as we go along,” Reichert said.

In the meantime, Reichert said the safety campaigns can make great strides.

“Educate pedestrians about safe says to cross and where to cross and when to cross and wearing clothes that reflect light, rather than absorb it, and educate them on how difficult it is to see them at night. ... We’re going to start with the education program tomorrow,” Reichert said. “That will be the short term, and then we’ll work on all this other.”

Macon’s statistics may be some of the worst in Georgia, but the community’s call to action is unprecedented, DiGioia said.

“I really admire your collaboration here,” she said. “This isn’t happening anywhere else in the state.”

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines