Macon leaders urge GDOT to make highways safer for pedestrians


Liz Fabian

An enhanced crosswalk and median was added to Montpelier Avenue to improve pedestrian safety.

Liz Fabian
A woman jaywalks across Montpelier Avenue just a short distance from where an enhanced crosswalk was built near Bentley and Sons Funeral Home.
Macon-Bibb County
Bibb County’s pedestrian crashes have been on the rise in recent years despite efforts to enhance highway safety.

Preventing pedestrian deaths on the streets of Macon is proving to be a challenge the local government cannot tackle alone.

Making streets safer requires more attention from transportation planners in the state of Georgia, local leaders and activists say.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission is asking the local delegation of the Georgia General Assembly to encourage the Georgia Department of Transportation, or GDOT, to study ways to enhance pedestrian safety features on the state roads it controls.

“How many deaths does it take before we find out how many lights we need?” Commissioner Elaine Lucas asked during a meeting with state legislators last month.

After 30 people died on Bibb County roads in 2014, Lucas formed the Pedestrian Safety Review Board in April of 2015 but the county remains in the top 10 in the state for pedestrian crashes, injuries and fatalities.

Last year, Macon-Bibb County signed onto the Vision Zero concept with the goal of having no one killed while walking, running or bicycling, yet there have been eight confirmed traffic deaths so far this year, according to the Bibb County Coroner’s Office.

“Everybody takes it personally when there’s another… and we shouldn’t because it’s not our fault,” Lucas told the public safety committee earlier this month.

In the past four and a half years, the committee has been looking at crash data, educating the public and working to improve safety in areas such as Montpelier Avenue where a new crosswalk was added near Bentley and Sons Funeral Home.

Over the past five years, data shows the majority of Bibb County’s pedestrian fatalities have occurred on state highways, including Gray Highway, Pio Nono Avenue, Eisenhower Parkway and Ga. 247.

The multi-lane state highways were the subject of conversation at Wednesday’s Vision Zero Action Plan Workshop at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center.

“Those roads are speedways so we want to slow stuff down and save our citizens,” Lucas said.

Former Georgia Highway Safety Director Bob Dallas serves on the Vision Zero Network Advisory Committee and helped facilitate the local workshop.

“Too often we talk about statistics but these are people,” Dallas said.

While Vision Zero aims to eliminate highway deaths it also provides a guide on how to change the outcomes for a community like Macon that is actively working on issues.

“None of this will work without engaging citizens of Macon-Bibb County,” Dallas said.

Mayor Robert Reichert envisions capitalizing on current trends showing an increasing number of people want to live near the city center and walk or pedal their way to work.

Urban Development Authority executive director Alex Morrison continually looks for ways to connect downtown to surrounding neighborhoods and the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

“It’s about changing the way we think about medians and park space,” Morrison said during his presentation.

Minor tweaks are possible without having to spend a lot ofnmoney and overburden limited resources, he said. For instance, reconfiguring the traffic flow on the Spring Street Bridge could restripe the road to create a dedicated bike lane and expand sidewalks, he said.

As part of the massive rebuilding of the Interstate 75-16 interchange, putting 10-foot sidewalks on the Otis Redding Bridge will act as a pedestrian trail connecting to the riverwalk.

Integrating public art along the pedestrian corridors is a great way to encourage their use, Morrison said.

Liz Fabian
BikeWalk Macon and stARTup Studios organized the Macon Crosswalks Visible Project which painted four crosswalks around Mount de Sales Academy.

Over the summer, BikeWalk Macon and stARTup Studios organized the Macon Crosswalks Visible Project through the Downtown Challenge Fund of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. Four crosswalks near Mount de Sales Academy were painted bright colors to make them standout.

Macon-Bibb County now requires sidewalks to be built in all new neighborhoods and commercial developments.

While the county plans pedestrian safety improvements around Middle Georgia State University and Ivey Drive, there are still a number of busy roads without designated crosswalks in high-traffic areas. Pedestrians jaywalk across multiple lanes and risk serious injury or death.

“Where people have to cross the street, they’re not going to walk a quarter mile one way and a quarter mile back,” Dallas told the conference attendees.

Commissioner Lucas has recently suggested the county should investigate repurposing  the abandoned David Lucas pedestrian bridge over Interstate 75 near Pleasant Hill. The foot bridge encased in chain link fence was recently replaced by new construction near the Hardeman Avenue exit. The old bridge, named for her late father-in-law, could be moved to Gray Highway, she suggested.

State Safety Engineering Manager Samuel Harris said GDOT conducts at least 14 road safety audits each year – two in each of Georgia’s seven transportation districts.

Engineers look at what could be contributing to crashes and determine what can be done to mitigate risk factors. When a project is complete, GDOT will evaluate whether the changes have solved the problem, Harris said.

A couple of years ago, a GDOT audit of Eisenhower Parkway resulted in a pedestrian crosswalk at C Street where a child on a bicycle had been hit and killed. Changes also have been made at Bloomfield Road, Macon-Bibb Traffic Engineer Nigel Floyd said.

Although the stakeholders at the workshop offered strategies for ways to make streets safer, no action items were decided during the meeting.

Leverson S. Boodlal, a principal of KLS Engineering which moderated the workshop, said the firm would help Macon-Bibb County draft proposals based on input from the nearly 6-hour meeting and an ongoing analysis of traffic data.

The workshop allowed safety experts from the state and federal governments to hear the concerns of Maconites.

“It appears a lot of the folks in the room did not know them,” Boodlal said.

The networking opportunity established relationships to help the agencies work together on solutions.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected].