Shepherd Center urges repairs to Buckhead sidewalks

Two metal plates that have separated, causing a hole, cover the crosswalk on Lindbergh Drive on July 16. (Photo by Evelyn Andrews)

Sidewalks providing access to the Shepherd Center on Peachtree Road are damaged, and wheelchair-using patients say it makes their commute to the spinal cord and brain injury hospital dangerous. City officials say they’re looking at the issues, but it remains unclear who is responsible for fixing any problems.

“The sidewalks on Peachtree [Road] are a travesty. Peachtree is Atlanta’s supposedly premiere street and the one the world knows us by,” said James Shepherd, the center’s co-founder and board chairman. “This is a decades-old problem that needs to be addressed.”

On a recent visit, Reporter Newspapers saw a sign blocking a sidewalk on Lindbergh Drive near Peachtree Road — a problem a wheelchair-using Shepherd Center also complained about — and the nearest crosswalk covered by two metal plates with a hole between them.

Christina Cruz-Benton, a city spokesperson, later said the Department of Public Works removed the sign. Cruz-Benton also said that Peachtree Road sidewalk repairs must be done by the Georgia Department of Transportation, because the road is a state route.

A GDOT spokesperson, Natalie Dale, said the state agency only performs sidewalk work as a part of larger road projects. “We look to the city to maintain sidewalks within their jurisdiction,” Dale said in an email.

In addition, area City Councilmember Howard Shook plans to document sidewalk conditions as part of a planned walk-through of his district.

A Shepherd Center spokesperson said they have tried for many years to get sidewalks fixed and were told by the city some sidewalks along Peachtree Road in front of businesses are the responsibility of the property owners to maintain, so the hospital last fall repaired the sidewalks in front of its property.

“Now, the sidewalks along Shepherd Center’s property — from the Piedmont Hospital property line to the bus stop just north of the hospital’s main entrance —are in good shape,” said Jane Sanders, the center’s director of public relations, in an email. “However, that is not the case for other portions of the sidewalk along Peachtree Road north of Shepherd Center.”

Several sidewalks on Peachtree Road are crushed and cracked, especially near the Shepherd Center, James Curtis, a patient and volunteer said.

“It is a short commute, but it is rough on my wheelchair,” Curtis said. He has contacted ATL311, the city’s hotline for city services, but hasn’t noticed any sidewalk improvements, he said.

“I have not had much success,” Curtis said.

Cruz-Benton said the city is working to improve ATL311 by consolidating work order systems for the Departments of Public Works and Watershed Management “for a streamlined approach.”

“The ATL311 customer service team does not close out service requests before they are resolved,” Cruz-Benton said. “Providing exemplary customer service to City of Atlanta residents and visitors is very important. That is why Mayor [Kasim] Reed launched the 311 Customer Service System in 2014.”

Jarvis Brown, who operates an electric wheelchair and goes to the Shepherd Center’s pharmacy often, said he has also had trouble getting to the hospital from the Lindbergh area. Brown said trying to navigate Peachtree Road to get to the hospital is “difficult and dangerous” because of the cracks, potholes and other damage.

Construction in Buckhead also doesn’t help, he said, because often sidewalks can be blocked. Sometimes construction workers assist him, if they are on the job.

“If there are no workers around, you’re pretty much on your own,” Brown said.

Shepherd said he has been advocating for improved sidewalk safety and repairs since the hospital opened at 2020 Peachtree Road in Buckhead in 1982.

“There are many wheelchair-users and medical patients on canes or with limited mobility,” said Shepherd, who was paralyzed in the 1970s. “Pedestrian safety is paramount everywhere but particularly in this hallmark corridor … Our curb cuts spill into the street at sometimes steep angles and many times into a gutter section that throws your wheelchair off balance in a totally opposite direction.”

Shepherd also mentioned the facility the hospital operates for soldiers with mild to moderate brain injuries on Peachtree Park Drive down the street from the main hospital.

The city recently removed this street sign that was blocking a sidewalk on Lindbergh Drive, forcing wheelchair users and pedestrians into the road.

“They struggle with balance issues and simply crossing the street can be a challenge,” Shepherd said of those patients.

Another patient at the Shepherd Center who lives in Peachtree Hills about a mile from the hospital expressed similar accessibility issues. Before the sign was removed from the Lindbergh Drive sidewalk, she said it was forcing her to go into the street.

The patient, who asked her name not be used, said she has submitted several requests to ATL311 to fix the sign, but the requests are closed within a day and the problem is not resolved, she said.

“I have not heard from anyone and the issues are still exactly as reported and photographed,” she said.

She said she will continue to send requests for problems that she feel endanger her, but she is concerned others will stop trying if they don’t have success getting problems fixed.

“It concerns me that is what is happening. That’s when people give up,” she said.

But these sidewalk problems are not only dangerous for those in wheelchairs, she said.

“This is not only about people with disabilities, it’s about able-bodied people as well,” she said.

Jennifer Garich, a mother who lives near the intersection of Peachtree Road and Lindbergh Drive, noted the two metal plates in the crosswalk at Lindbergh and Parkside drives. The plates have been there for more than year, Garich said. “They are now beginning to separate, exposing a large deep hole. A person or pet could possibly fall into the opening,” Garich said.

These residents may see some progress soon, as Councilmember Shook, whose District 7 includes the Lindbergh Drive area, but not the Shepherd Center, announced July 5 he will do a walking tour of the district to compile a list of infrastructure issues.

Shook will make a list of the cracked sidewalks, potholes, sinkholes, collapsed storm drains, open water meter lids, missing signs, steel plates and damaged curbs, according to a press release.

Shook said the walking tour isn’t related to any specific problems residents have been having. He previously did a similar walking tour in 2010 and he felt the time was right to do a second.

“It was a very valuable experience,” Shook said of the tour.

The city has a list of problems that need to be fixed, but Shook has found the list is not always accurate, he said. City departments were responsive in fixing most problems in 2010, and he expects them to be again, but notes some problems require much longer fixes.

“He will email a photograph and the location of each problem directly to the commissioner of the appropriate department and use a spreadsheet to track the progress — or lack thereof — in correcting the problems,” a press release about the walking tour said.

2 Comments
  1. Christina Cruz-Benton, a city spokesperson, said the “ATL311 customer service team does not close out service requests until they are resolved.” That has not been my experience. Nor has it been the experience of others at PEDS, Atlanta’s pedestrian advocacy organization that I lead.

    Like the Shepherd Center patient, I have received closure notices about problems that have not been resolved. When I spoke with a representative of ATL311, she told me that team members identify cases as closed once they have passed the request on to the agency responsible for addressing it. From what I can tell, ATL311 does not follow up with Public Works or other agencies to determine whether the agency did anything to resolve reported problems.

    This article addresses an important problem: who is responsible for sidewalk repairs? The answer is complicated, and the City of Atlanta’s sidewalk repair policy is a big part of the problem. When GDOT installs sidewalks, it requires local governments to sign agreements that assigns responsibility for repairs to the local jurisdiction. In Atlanta, city law assigns fiscal responsibility for repairs to abutting property owners. Public Works, however, rarely inspects sidewalk conditions or calls on property owners to make repairs. The ordinance is politically unpopular, unfair to property owners and nearly impossible to enforce, especially in a city with a high poverty rate. People who walk or use wheelchairs or other assistive devices are the big losers. The City doesn’t make property owners to pay for potholes in the road adjacent to their property. Sidewalks are public assets, not private property. Public Works has estimated the annual cost of deterioration of sidewalks and curb ramps at $20 million. Atlanta’s budget, however, assigns less than $2 million to sidewalk repairs.

    This is an electoral year, and PEDS calls on the Shepherd Center to join PEDS in asking candidates to commit to pedestrian friendly policy and funding changes. You can learn more at http://bit.ly/2uZ2WVa

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