Politics & Government

Pedestrian deaths spur Macon-Bibb scrutiny

Ten pedestrians have died in Macon-Bibb County since late January 2014, nine on public roads and one in a business’ parking lot.

That number drew the attention of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health and, most recently, city-county commissioners.

Now an evaluation of all those cases is complemented by recommended improvements at many of the sites. And public officials are talking about ways to make the public more aware of roadway risks, from children to the elderly.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who also serves on the board of health, led the effort to examine recent pedestrian deaths. The board of health declared the situation a public health issue and convened an informal committee to study the incidents.

Now Lucas plans to introduce a resolution calling for a permanent pedestrian traffic safety committee, and an ordinance to write its existence into the Macon-Bibb code. Such a committee, including representatives of law enforcement and traffic engineering, would meet regularly to review any future accidents, she said.

“What they would be looking at is lighting, the roadway itself, and they would be looking at whether there’s ways to increase the safety in those areas,” Lucas said.

Last week Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Brad Wolfe gave commissioners a breakdown of 10 pedestrian fatalities, and Macon-Bibb Facilities Management Director Gene Simonds presented a list of recommendations for many of the fatality sites and other, earlier trouble spots.

Seven of the 10 deaths have been on state highways, which often are much wider than county roads, Wolfe said. Five of the accidents involved pedestrians whose blood had “extremely high alcohol content,” he said. One death was in a private parking lot.

In general, the deaths weren’t in crosswalks, but they were in urbanized areas where there weren’t many street lights, Wolfe said. Low-beam car headlights illuminate about 160 feet ahead -- which, depending on a car’s speed, is also about its braking distance, he said. That means a car often can’t stop in time if someone suddenly steps into the headlight stream.

Simonds said he personally visited the site of every fatal accident. More street lights would help some locations, but their absence isn’t necessarily the cause of a fatality, he said. Planners do need to look at establishing more crosswalks and better pedestrian signals, Simonds said.

A sheriff’s office summary of each pedestrian fatality, with some comments from Simonds, is as follows:

SUMMARIES OF DEATHS

Jan. 24, 2014, 8:38 p.m. (dark): On Hawkinsville Road near Barnes Ferry Road, an “intoxicated pedestrian” in dark clothing was hit in the second lane from the shoulder.

March 28, 2014, 10:34 a.m. (heavy rain): On Spring Street near Riverside Drive an “intoxicated pedestrian” got across five lanes, then stepped in the path of a vehicle. “Driver could not see. Witnesses said unavoidable.” The intersection has full signals and a crosswalk, Sim­onds noted.

April 19, 2014, 1:33 p.m. (daylight): On Jeffersonville Road at Irwinton Road, one car caromed out of a two-vehicle collision and hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk. Simonds said the intersection has three floodlights and an overhead flasher, but no crosswalks or sidewalks.

July 8, 2014, 8:22 p.m. (dark): On Riverside Drive at Hudson Street an “intoxicated pedestrian” appeared to be crossing the street and was hit in an inside lane. There is a street light but no sidewalk, Simonds said.

Oct. 11, 2014, 11:35 p.m. (dark): On Jeffersonville Road near Ruark Road an “intoxicated pedestrian ran into roadway.” The driver tried unsuccessfully to swerve. Simonds said there are no sidewalks, but he recommends talking to Georgia Power about installing more street lights along the stretch.

Dec. 4, 2014, 10:04 p.m. (dark): At Montpelier Avenue and Holt Avenue, there was an “intoxicated pedestrian” in the roadway. “Driver stated he looked up and before he could stop, struck pedestrian.” There are sidewalks and a street light but no crosswalks, Simonds said. He recommends a crosswalk with pedestrian signals.

Dec. 10, 2014, 7:15 p.m. (dark): On Broadway near Greter Street, a pedestrian was in the street, walking toward a vehicle, which was going downhill. The incident is still under investigation. There is a street light at the intersection but no sidewalk, and one is not recommended since there’s no development north of the intersection, Simonds said.

Jan. 18, 2015, 4:11 p.m. (daylight): In the Kroger parking lot on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard, an elderly pedestrian came out of the store and walked into the path of a vehicle.

Jan. 27, 2015, 8:25 p.m. (dark): At the intersection of Houston and Pio Nono avenues with Broadway, a pedestrian stepped off the median island into the path of a vehicle.

It’s still under investigation. Simonds recommends the Georgia Department of Transportation install crosswalks and pedestrian signals at the traffic lights. He also suggests additional street lights.

Feb. 8, 2015, 8:21 p.m. (dark): On Jeffersonville Road at Piedmont Circle, a pedestrian was crossing the road with her back to traffic. It’s still under investigation.

SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS

Simonds’ report included recommendations at several other intersections which also had seen accidents, though many of them have some safety features already. Several areas, especially along Gray Highway, lack street lights, he found.

A couple more street lights are recommended at the corner of Bloomfield Road and Virginia Drive, and one at the corner of Eisenhower Parkway and Anthony Terrace.

In November 2014, Simonds said he sent a letter to Georgia Power asking for two more street lights on Hightower Road. He also recommended the addition of street lights at three intersections on Forest Hill Road, which is being widened by the state.

“The recommendations are excellent, and I’m glad that a number of people have already been working on this,” Lucas said.

She said she’s particularly concerned about a cluster of three deaths on a short stretch of Jeffersonville Road, where there has been an acknowledged need for improvements for 20 years. When that work finally comes, Lucas said she wants to see inclusion of “every safety feature that you can possibly come up with that would be practical, that would be affordable.”

A $10.6 million plan to improve two sections of the road, a bridge and a railroad crossing has been repeatedly held up due to environmental issues, the slow pace of right of way purchase, changes in estimated costs and reworking state and local government partnerships, officials have said. The first work is slated to begin in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

“While that work is taking place, I would like to see this committee work very closely with the designers and with Moreland Altobelli,” Lucas said. Moreland Altobelli is a consulting firm that works with the state’s transportation department on numerous road projects.

Lucas said she already has heard from several people who want to be included on the proposed review committee, and her fellow board of health members Chris Tsavatewa and David Gowan already are involved. Gowan, director of risk management for Bibb County schools, wants to look for more funding like the federal Safe Routes to Schools program and increase safety instruction in classes, she said.

Area residents, especially runners and bicyclists who are often on the roads, need to be asked for “common sense” suggestions for low-cost improvements at trouble spots, Lucas said.

Schools, public recreation centers and the Macon Housing Authority need to be involved in the education and planning effort, too, she said.

“Any area where we know there are large numbers of people who don’t have transportation or who walk recreationally” should be venues for public involvement, Lucas said.

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