The following report of the Pedestrian Safety Review Board was delivered to the Mayor and Commission at their Feb. 28 meeting in Government Center.
At that session I, as PSRB chairman, told those assembled that we are considering traffic-calming measures, including Hawk systems (a marked crosswalk equipped with pedestrian activated warning lights) at several points along Eisenhower Parkway and Mercer University Drive where four to five lanes of high speed traffic separate pedestrians from desired commercial destinations and from their neighbors who live on the far, far side of the concrete divide.
Pedestrians have been killed at or near several of those points, points which are more than a reasonable walking distance from the nearest existing crosswalk. I added that since Georgia Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over those roads it is incumbent upon the local government to get the highway department’s permission, active involvement and financial assistance in order to enhance pedestrian safety on those roads.
Additionally, I reported that we have formally recommended traffic calming, including reduced speed limits, on four area streets, each of which is adjacent to extensive residential areas. Frequent pedestrian crossings occur along the subject streets. Those streets are Nottingham Drive, Oglethorpe Avenue, Montpelier Avenue and Hazel Street.
I added a comment regarding the next item on the day’s Public Safety Committee agenda — a resolution to increase the speed limit on Edna Place, which traverses a large residential neighborhood. Numerous residents of the Nottingham Drive/Shirley Hills area and from the Edna Place neighborhood were in attendance at this meeting. Prior to my report, I spoke with all of them and without exception, they supported lowered speed limits through their respective areas. I pointed out the obvious: that it is illogical to lower speed limits in one residential area while raising them in another neighborhood across town. Time will tell whether the point was understood.
My report also dealt with the safety needs of the St. Paul elderly community, on Forsyth Street near the Forsyth/College Street intersection. They desire a Hawk system equipped crosswalk in front of their high rise and an improvement in pedestrian safety at the Forsyth Street/College Street intersection, a very heavily trafficked spot at which numerous (and hazardous) turning movements occur, including in and out of a very busy gas station. I concluded that part of the report by noting that Macon-Bibb County has been designated an “Age Friendly” community so we ought to live up to that designation by implementing traffic-calming near St. Paul’s, and elsewhere else.
The PSRB also recommends widening the entrance to East Macon Park and is considering additional safety enhancements — e.g. sidewalks and bike lanes — for that destination which is popular with kids and adults alike. Violet Poe was commended for her tireless dedication to educating at-risk segments of the public regarding pedestrian safety.
Finally, I reported on the deliberations of another committee — the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee — whose meetings I attend as PSRB representative. At that committee meeting, held several hours after the PSRB meeting, I raised concerns about the efficacy, costs and benefits of a proposed bike lane network between Tatnall Square and the Ocmulgee Riverwalk. One segment of the plan involves spending about $120,000 to put bike lanes along Walnut Street, between Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Madison Street. I noted that Riverside Drive Lane, which runs parallel to Walnut, between First Street and Madison Street, already exists and carries no traffic. It could, if striped for bike lanes, easily serve as a bikeway thus saving a lot of money which could be used to install bike lanes in unserved parts of Macon-Bibb. I have consistently advocated a community-wide, all-inclusive network of dedicated bike lanes, including along many of our four and five lane roads. But whenever I raise the issue, whether at MATS Policy Committee meetings or P&Z’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee meetings, it is ignored.
The current administration’s sole focus is on what it calls the “urban core.” That may satisfy the well-connected who want public resources directed toward their development plans for the area between the Ocmulgee and Mercer University. But such a narrow focus contravenes the principal of equity which is the heart of the Vision Zero concept adopted by the local government.
On a linear-mile basis, the “urban core” already has far more traffic calming features — e.g. well-marked crosswalks, adequate lighting, pedestrian signals, lower speed limits and sidewalks — than any other part of Macon-Bibb. If all elements of the bikeway plan for the urban core are implemented — including an outrageously expensive and poorly thought-out plan to spend $4 million for less than a mile of bike lanes along College Street — there will be nothing left for pedestrian/bicyclist safety in the rest of Macon-Bibb.
My report concluded with some observations regarding a sister city’s bikeway system. Last year, the mayor and some others took a grant-funded excursion to look at Copenhagen's bikeway network. If they’d done some homework they would have known that Macon-Bibb and Copenhagen are similar in square area —255 square miles for us and 237 square miles for Copenhagen. We have less than two miles of bike ways, counting the river walk. Copenhagen has 261 miles of bike lanes with 85 more in the pipeline. Everybody in Copenhagen has access to its bike network — it is all inclusive. But we will never see that here unless the focus is broadened to include the community beyond the “urban core.”
Michael Ryan is chairman, Pedestrian Safety Review Board.