Walking to a transit station in Atlanta should be a breeze. It should be a thing that you actually want to do — not a dangerous chore that you do only when you have no other choice.
In the video above, which I made this week, notice the white car turning right onto West Peachtree Street from North Avenue into a crowd of pedestrians who are crossing with a signal. I watched several cars do this exact thing before I pulled out my camera.
You can see this kind of thing all day at this spot in front of the North Avenue MARTA station and I believe it’s not just a matter of careless drivers — as someone who walks the city and observes driver and pedestrian behavior, it seems to me that the design of the street is encouraging and enabling this kind of aggressive driving that’s hostile to pedestrians.
I’m going to contact the City of Altanta’s transportation office about this intersection, and MARTA as well. (Also GDOT, since this stretch of North Avenue is state highway 8; the state DOT offices are actually inside the white building across the street.) This kind of dangerous environment on our public streets hurts the viability of public transit as mode, and it weakens the return on our investment in this North Avenue station.
The Federal Highway Administration website has an interesting study from Portland where improvements were made to pedestrian access to transit stops. The results imply that improved safety has a positive impact on transit ridership and also on walking in general.
Here’s another video I made a while ago of the same crosswalk, from a different angle — you can see the entrance to the MARTA station in the background. Notice that the crosswalk light changes about two seconds in. The pedestrians have the right of way, but cars keep plowing through.
Common sense dictates that a transit station should be one of the most pedestrian-friendly places in the city. Turning things around at this — and at other — transit stations in the city may require some good inter-agency cooperation between the city, MARTA and the state.
One of the Thread ATL principles focuses on the need for good connections in the city: “The way Atlantans have embraced active transportation on the Beltline and realize that this shows the potential for widespread use of connected, safe pedestrian and bike routes on Atlanta streets, not just on separate paths. Developments that go halfway on urbanism don’t provide half of a success – they limit connections between people, public space and communities.”
City leaders should be taking the lead on exploring inter-agency methods for creating better connections for walkers and transit riders. And we as Atlantans should be demanding this of those leaders.
The conundrum of heavy car flow and heavy pedestrian activity
The intersection of North Avenue and West Peachtree Street offers some significant challenges. North Avenue is one of the few roads east-west that crosses the I-75/85 connector and it delivers cars to the interstate a couple of blocks from this MARTA station. So there’s a lot of car flow mixing together with pedestrians entering and exiting the transit station, creating a tricky situation for engineers.
Also, West Peachtree Street is an awkward beast in that it’s behaving like a highway with several lanes all going north, but it’s doing so in the middle of urban density. This design may have seemed logical at some point in the past before Midtown’s building boom of the past couple of decades, but today it’s just a mess that needs correcting. Long term (hopefully not too long), West Peachtree and it’s southbound sister immediately to the west — Spring Street — both need to be converted to two way streets that are more appropriate for a bustling city with pedestrians, residences and offices all around.
The root problem: bad driving behavior? Bad design? Both?
Drivers are making left and right turns into crosswalks while pedestrians with the right-of-way are inside the crosswalk. It’s illegal, and it’s just plain dangerous behavior. Stopping this behavior is the important thing that needs to be accomplished here.
As for right turns, my observation is that drivers are treating the right lane as though it was a “slip lane” — that kind of detached right turning lane at some intersection that allows drivers to smoothly make right turns with a large turning radius. Intersections with a more sharp turning radius encourage drivers to stop and look for pedestrians first.
But as you can see in the image below, there is no slip lane here — drivers are just behaving like it. Could sharpening that turn radius on the southeast corner of the intersection help? And perhaps shifting the crosswalk a bit closer to the intersection to give higher visibility to pedestrians?
Could this be turned into an enormous roundabout that has clear pedestrian paths in front of the circle? Or would that result in the creation of a different set of pedestrian challenges (I’ve heard they can be tough to walk through).
What about a pedestrian scramble (also called a Barnes Dance) where all moving traffic is stopped to allow all pedestrians to cross? There’s one at a large intersection in DC that seems to work well, and we’ve got a couple installed at smaller intersections in Atlanta already. I use the one at the southeast corner of Woodruff Park regularly and it’s great.
If you’re interested in getting in the weeds with details about what kind of solutions exist for improving pedestrian/cyclist safety through intersection design, take a look at this page on the FHWA website. The image below comes from the section on intersection geometry:
The section reads: “Intersection geometry has a significant impact on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. Ideal intersection geometry should induce yielding by slowing turning vehicles to minimize speed differentials at conflict points. Techniques include installing curb extensions, installing raised crossings, or reducing the curb radii. Consider roundabouts as an alternative to traffic signals and at intersections with complicated geometry.”
The key point I want to make here is that there are lots of solutions that can be tried at this North Avenue intersection as well as at other tricky ones around the city neat transit stations (the wacky Lee Street Connector near West End station is worthy of its own post at some point).
We’re not helpless. Bad driving behavior can be corrected with good design. And as advocates and engaged citizens, it’s not necessary for us to get in the weeds with detailed knowledge. That’s what traffic engineers and professional planners are here for. Our task is to communicate with leaders and with agencies about the needs that aren’t being met so that the work for solutions can be prioritized. That’s the city we make.