Sidewalk safety may change regulations

Some developers are out to make cities’ streets safer — literally. A movement in Atlanta is pushing for new regulations in the construction of sidewalks to make them safer for pedestrians.

In the past, Atlanta has been ranked the second-most-dangerous city for walking. With a few improvements from the Georgia Department of Transportation, that ranking has dropped to 12th. In 2001, 64 pedestrians were killed by drivers; 82 more were runover statewide.

According to Sally Flocks, president of Atlanta’s Pedestrian Drivers on Safety, a few of the changes that would ensure the safety of walkers include tree-lined streets, park benches and utility poles. However, current DOT regulation requires all of the above to be placed at least 8 feet from the curb. The reasoning behind the current regulation is that trees and light poles could be more deadly for motorists who veer off the road, and it is more likely a tree would be hit than a pedestrian.

David Studstill, director of operations for the DOT, said sidewalk construction regulations try to balance between the odds so there are the least number of injuries — for drivers and pedestrians.

“It’s kind of like asking the question, ‘Which is the lesser of two evils?’ We want to protect the pedestrians, but we want to protect the drivers as well,” Studstill told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Flocks disagreed with Studstill’s statement.

“The DOT is so concerned about the motorists, but what they don’t realize is that the real issue is that pedestrians are much more likely to be killed in an accident if hit by a car than the driver will,” Flocks said. “Who is more evil, someone who is innocently walking on the sidewalk and is hit by a drunk driver, or someone who speeds and veers off the road?”

Flocks thinks the DOT’s regulations are needed on rural roads, but not city streets.

She said it is much less likely that someone will fall asleep and drive off the road under the city’s streetlights and commotion.

Adam Orkin, a developer in the Atlanta area, wants the DOT to change its standards. He is concerned pedestrians don’t feel safe so close to the road.

“You go out there on a 45 mph street and people are driving 50,” he said. “You walk around a curve, and it’s scary.”

While the DOT is reviewing the regulations, it is not likely drastic changes will be made. Studstill told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that engineers are considering other options, including allowing trees, benches and light poles closer to streets with speed limits of 35 mph or less.

The push for safer streets comes at a time when revitalization is occurring to make cities and communities lively areas where walkers are safe. As part of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative, $280 million in federal funds will be spent over the next 10 years on improving the city — and its sidewalks.