Tuesday evening I attended my first East Atlanta Community Association meeting in about a year. During the last year of Nancy's life I didn't attend meetings of any sort, and since her departure my attention span for meetings has not been good.
But I finally acknowledged what I've known for a long time, that the most efficient means for the citizen of a neighborhood to have a positive impact is to help out in the local community group, which in my case is EACA. So I went to the meeting.
As it turns out, one of the items of discussion was entitled "2005 EACA Objectives" and a presentation of proposed tasks and priorities for EACA was delivered by Jennifer Murray, EACA's Vice President.
Predictably (and somewhat to my dismay, since I'm trying to not take on too many additional tasks too quickly) a signup sheet was passed around, broken down into the various issues and tasks. I sat staring at the sheet, and began thinking about committments I already have, and noticed that no one had signed up for Pedestrian Safety.
So I reluctantly signed my name to the sheet.
I have very strong feelings about this issue, and some of my thoughts on the issue have been somewhat contrarian. Metro-wide even the most minimal compliance with pedestrian right-of-way in crosswalks is atrocious. Mid block crosswalks in Atlanta, and in fact state wide, are an absolute joke. I've very seldom seen a driver stop for a pedestrian waiting at a mid block crossing in Atlanta or in any of its suburbs (with the exception of one part of Peachtree, explained below), and even in less ambiguous circumstances at signalized intersections with walk lights, drivers seldom stop unless pedestrians assert their right by surging forward at some risk.
The only place I've spent substantial time where pedestrian right of way was consistently honored is in Canadian towns and cities. I remember walking through downtown Truro and being astonished that drivers would pull to a complete stop for me not only at signalized intersections, but at any crosswalk, no matter what its position relative to the interesection.
Now part of this was undoubtably the renowned (or notorious, depending on one's perspective) tendency of Canadians to comply with rules. But part of it was a culture of respect for pedestrian rights, and the clear knowledge of the citizens that it's the law. After all, the same basic law regarding pedestrian rights in crosswalks applies in Georgia as in Nova Scotia, or Ontario, or British Columbia. The difference is that in those areas the law is complied with, and presumably enforced.
Hence my contrarian attitude. While I have no real objections to attempts to engineer pedestrian safety into the built environment via traffic calming schemes as long as noxious unintended consequences are avoided, I don't believe for a second that engineered solutions are the overall answer to the problem.
The solution as I see it is broad education of drivers concerning the law combined with strict enforcement. At the moment the only place I know of that the crosswalk ordinances are being strictly enforced is at Peachtree just north of Five Points. The reason for the crackdown was the opening of Georgia State University's Aderhold building in Fairlie-Poplar, which created a steady flow of students between the main body of the campus and the Aderhold Building.
Watching the ticketing of violaters is fascinating, because it becomes obvious that the violaters are confused that they've broken any law. After all, in every other part of the metro area the same things are done, and not only have they never personally been ticketed, but they don't even know anyone who's ever been ticketed for plowing through a crosswalk full of pedestrians, much less with pedestrians waiting to cross.
So to repeat my main point, the key to pedestrian safety in East Atlanta, and in Atlanta as a whole is consistent education, and consistent enforcement. And this means not only the nobrainer intersections like Glenwood and Flat Shoals, where any reasonable individual would want to insist that the laws be obeyed, but at the crossing at Moreland and Sanders, where there is no traffic signal, a crosswalk, and absolutely no compliance of the law by any driver I've ever seen.