Two PEDS Community Walking Champions attend the GirlTrek Atlanta Advocacy Workshop
BY CHRISTI NAKAJIMA
Two advocacy organizations have been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to create safer streets. Historically, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) championed bike-friendly improvements to Atlanta’s policies and infrastructure, while PEDS focused on similar efforts for pedestrians. We interviewed both organizations to catch up on their work during the pandemic and learn more about what’s next.
Leading up to the pandemic, PEDS was working to make walking safer, equitable, and more convenient through advocacy, training, and programs. With much of PEDS’ work occurring “in the field”, the pandemic presented a major challenge for the non-profit. COVID-19 forced PEDS to suspend its in-person activities, including its road and bus stop safety audits and Community Walking Champions program. The latter started in 2019 and involves training participants to become advocates for pedestrian safety in their local communities. Staff also had to figure out how to do vehicle-pedestrian conflict screenings virtually, by looking at police reports to evaluate corridors with high rates of conflict and offer infrastructure change recommendations to policymakers.
Advancing Citywide Sidewalk Repair Policy
Despite facing setbacks, PEDS saw a major step forward during the pandemic: the passage of sidewalk funding legislation in the City of Atlanta.
“Currently property owners are responsible for sidewalk repair in front of their homes," said Larissa Bradburn, Interim Executive Director of PEDS. "We believe sidewalks should be the responsibility of the City, just like roads...However, until funding is identified, this is unlikely to change."
In September, Atlanta City Council passed a resolution requiring two City departments to come up with a plan to fund the estimated $800 million needed to repair sidewalks across the city. Bradburn viewed this as a critical moment for improving sidewalks, but emphasized that PEDS’ work isn’t over yet.
Broken and poorly maintained sidewalks present mobility challenges for pedestrians across the city – especially those who use wheelchairs.
Online Classes See Higher Attendance
Meanwhile, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition began working virtually and shifted one of its largest programs, city bicycling classes, from in-person to online. Yet, social distancing protocols and the closure of indoor gyms has also brought about a renewed interest in cycling and the great outdoors. According to 2021 bike trip count data maintained by Midtown Alliance, monthly trips in the district grew from 22K in January to 38K in March.
When the pandemic hit, ABC didn’t skip a beat, with virtual classes starting in April of 2020. This switch led to a surprising outcome.
“We actually saw increased attendance, because you no longer had to be in Atlanta to join," said Stephen Spring, Education and Outreach Programs Manager at Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. "People from Metro Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Athens, and other cities across the state joined in."
Because of how quickly ABC was able to offer classes virtually, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety promoted these classes across the state.
Those commuters interested in bicycling to work or riding an e-scooter to work are invited to register for a joint Midtown Alliance - Atlanta Bicycle Coalition webinar taking place on May 17 that will offer essential info about bike and e-scooter commuting. The virtual event will also examine new and upcoming bike infrastructure, how to talk to your employer about commuter benefits, confident cycling in Midtown and more. Register here.
One of the forward-looking policy initiatives Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is working on is creating a more equitable city through mobility, including where transit and affordability intersect with bicycling.
Photo credit: Atlanta Bicycle Coalition
Vision Zero and Beyond
Another big step for the City during the pandemic was the passage of Vision Zero, a policy that aims for zero traffic fatalities by implementing strategies to reduce vehicle speeds and safety challenges for people walking, biking and driving cars. Both organizations strongly advocated for Vision Zero, which the City of Atlanta passed in April of 2020. Bradburn feels that this type of work is more important now than ever.
“With the pandemic, surprisingly the reduction in traffic on the roads did not lead to a reduction in pedestrian fatalities," said Bradburn. "It actually led to an increase; the emptier roads led to more dangerous behavior, so 2020 saw the highest number of pedestrian deaths in GA in more than 40 years."
Looking forward in 2021, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition created a policy agenda that calls upon city councilmembers and the Atlanta board of education to adopt 26 policies that surround safety, transit and affordability, funding, and education. Some of these policy recommendations, such as prioritizing affordable housing near transit, exemplify another major shift for ABC: an expansion from bicycling advocacy to encompass all forms of sustainable transportation. This change is evident in its new mission statement: “to reclaim Atlanta’s streets as safe, inclusive, and thriving spaces for people to ride, walk, and roll.”
With ABC and PEDS discussing the possibility of merging, more change may be on the horizon.
How You Can Get Involved for Safer Streets
You can support the work of ABC and PEDS by signing the petition to city councilmembers, becoming a member of PEDS, and registering with your friends, colleagues, or staff for Hack Your Essential Trip 2021 – a customized class on bike safety skills and integration of other travel modes.
This story is the third in a series Midtown Alliance is developing on “second responders,” organizations that are hard at work supporting Atlanta’s post-pandemic recovery and resiliency. We’re checking in to see how Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, PEDS, and others are adding to the big picture on urban issues like transit, greenspace, economic recovery and more. Subscribe to our newsletters to make sure you catch future installments in the series.