If you’ve ever walked in Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward or just about any other Intown neighborhood, you’ll notice that many of Atlanta’s sidewalks are in poor shape.
The current city sidewalk ordinance requires homeowners to repair sidewalks adjacent to their property – even when the sidewalk isn’t technically their property.
“More and more cities are replacing laws similar to Atlanta’s with ones that treat sidewalks as shared resources,” said Sally Flocks, President and CEO of PEDS. “If they can do it, so can Atlanta.”
Flocks and nonprofit PEDS, originally known as Pedestrians Educating Drivers, have made it their mission to make Atlanta’s sidewalks, bus stops, streets and crosswalks safe and accessible to everyone who walks.
PEDS has called on the City of Atlanta to take responsibility for fixing broken sidewalks and to allocate funding that makes it possible. Flocks said 2017 is an election year, and mayoral candidates should commit to replacing Atlanta’s sidewalk ordinance and including a $25 million line item for sidewalk repairs in the annual general fund budget.
Flocks said that voter approved sales tax increases will help fund numerous street upgrades, including new sidewalks. However, none of the tax money has been allocated for routine maintenance on the city’s miles of sidewalks.
Due to epilepsy, Flocks hasn’t driven most of her adult life. She gets around by walking and using public transportation, but grew weary of getting cut off in the crosswalks by drivers.
“I assumed the problem was that drivers didn’t know people had the right of way in crosswalks, but I quickly learned that it also has to do with road design,” Flocks said. “A lot of the work PEDS has done since then focuses on road design.”
Now she serves on the technical advisory committee with Atlanta’s Transportation Plan to better design the city with pedestrians in mind.
PEDS has reached many milestones in 21 years, from inspiring agencies to use crosswalk beacons to providing workshops that have helped transportation officials design for pedestrian safety.
“What I have is the perspective of a pedestrian,” Flocks said. “I come in as a user and someone who walks for transportation, which gives me a closer understanding of what it’s like for people who don’t drive cars.”
Two decades of pedestrian advocacy has resulted in making high visibility crosswalks the state standard and better compliance with crosswalk laws, at least in Intown neighborhoods. Flocks and others at PEDS have inspired agencies to install median islands, high-tech beacons and other safety improvements on Buford Highway, Ponce de Leon Avenue and other streets.
Flocks said safety for pedestrians in the city has increased under new Public Works Commissioner William Johnson. He has paid attention to permits and many streets under construction include covered walkways and plastic barriers in the road. “It’s not perfect,” Flocks said, “but we’re seeing big improvements.”