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Wheels & Heels: Pedestrian-Friendly Streets Good for Business

Metro Atlanta's most influential pedestrian thinks Decatur's affinity for walkers is at the heart of the city's economic prosperity.

If Decatur’s retail environment is thriving, thank the city’s pedestrian-friendly streets.

So sayeth Sally Flocks, Atlanta’s uber-pedestrian and the founder of PEDS, a nonprofit, member-based group that works to make metro Atlanta’s streets safe for all pedestrians. 

“Pedestrians are more important to the economy than motorists,” said Flocks in an interview this week with Patch.

Decatur’s streets are much more walkable than most other towns, enabling the city to “accommodate high density housing,” says Flocks.

“You wouldn’t have the kind of retail that Decatur is getting known for without high density housing,” says Flocks, who founded PEDS in 1996 after surgery eliminated a brain tumor that had prevented her from driving during most of her adult life.

“It’s the high density housing that makes that retail possible,” Flocks says.

Flocks’ argument makes sense, since small businesses thrive on customer concentrations. Which is why it’s puzzling to me that Republicans are working to cut funding for walking trails, bike paths and other transportation projects other than building roads and bridges, according to the Huffington Post. The nation’s bicycle zealots have managed to thwart the Republican effort to undermine bike-path funding. If bike- and pedestrian-friendly development is good for business and popular with people, why fight it?

Flocks cites a local transportation planner who said that, in the hierarchy of road users, pedestrians should come first, following by bicyclists and drivers last. Meaning that roads should be designed first for walkers, then for bikers and then for motorists. That’s not an opinion wildly popular among Georgia's road designers.

In Decatur and Avondale Estates, we’re blessed with a bounty of ways to get from one place to another. We have bike paths, sidewalks, buses, MARTA and roads for our cars.  I daresay most of us get around using petrochemical-fueled vehicles, but I’m seeing more and more people burning shoe leather and calories to get around than ever before.

But I think all of us motorists need to bone up on the laws pertaining to sharing the road with pedestrians. Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way in a crosswalk, not just in those crosswalks with a sign.

I live near one of those crosswalks, and I can attest to the fact that few motorists are aware of this law.

Check out the PEDS interactive video posted nearby to test your knowledge of the law governing pedestrian and motorist interactions. In most of these interactions, the pedestrian has the right of way.

But pedestrians must also understand that they’re going to suffer more in any collision. Many people grew up in the suburbs where they can “walk in the road safely,” says Flocks. When they land in a densely populated city, they don’t know not to walk on arterial roads, to walk facing traffic and that they are nearly invisible at night to cars, Flocks said.

Flocks advises pedestrians to wear light-colored clothing at night. And some loud jewelry. Specifically, a loud whistle like Flocks wears around her neck.

“A lot of drivers are turning and cutting me off” when she’s walking around her Atlanta neighborhood, complains Flocks. A loud whistle diverts a motorist’s attention away from texting or the cell phone. It doesn't hurt that the motorist may think the whistler is a cop.

She also suggests before crossing in crosswalks, pedestrians should hold up their hands, as though they were traffic cops, to signal motorists to stop.

Counterintuitively, Flocks says a pedestrian who keeps her head down is more likely to get a car to stop. That’s because drivers are especially wary of hitting a pedestrian who doesn’t see them, she says.

“Pedestrians don’t have the power to kill,” notes Flocks. 

Nancy Wilkinson November 05, 2011 at 01:09 PM
The videos are great. Just wondering, is something like this used in the Decatur schools to teach kids how to navigate the streets? I grew up in the sticks, so our safety tips were a lot simpler - walk facing traffic & look both ways before crossing pretty much covered everything.
Nancy Wilkinson November 05, 2011 at 01:11 PM
Ha, just saw my question answered in an earlier piece you did on child pedestrian safety training. Thanks.

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