KIRKWOOD _ A pair of frightening crashes in the last month are fresh reminders of the life-or-death safety issues on Memorial Drive that have been raised by area residents for years.
In the first, a woman was killed while walking across Memorial Drive in the Kirkwood neighborhood on the evening of Monday, March 20, 2017. Barbara Crawford was crossing at the un-signalized intersection of Campbell Street when she was struck by a westbound driver and pronounced dead at the scene. Atlanta Police found that the victim was not in a marked crosswalk and the driver was not at fault. This is a common finding with pedestrian-vehicle crashes, regardless of road conditions and the location of the nearest legal crosswalk. In this case, the nearest crosswalk was about 350 feet to the east at Warren Street.
In the second, a collision of two drivers ended with one of the vehicles rolled onto the sidewalk at East Lake Terrace, where schoolchildren and parents pass on their way to Drew Charter School. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries.
Both tragedies highlight life-or-death issues with high driver speeds, poor visibility, and lack of adequate pedestrian crossings that have been repeatedly identified on Memorial Drive.
About half of the intersections between Downtown and East Lake are above the statewide average for injury crashes from 2011 to 2015, according to a recently completed traffic study commissioned by Georgia Department of Transportation. It’s impossible to say whether this crash could have been prevented by any specific design changes, but it is well-established that higher speeds increase the likelihood of death or serious injury when a pedestrian is struck by a motorist. There are a wide range of tools (lane configuration, lane width, bulb-outs, signage, lighting, and more) that are proven to reduce vehicle speeds to a point where crashes with pedestrians are less likely to be fatal when they do happen.
This is not the first pedestrian fatality on Memorial Drive in recent years and it won’t be the last without some serious changes to a transportation network that prioritizes the speed of regional commuting traffic over the safety and well-being of the surrounding communities. The Imagine Memorial Transportation Committee is an ongoing working group of public agencies and community members who are working with Georgia Department of Transportation to advocate for short-term and long-term safety improvements along the Corridor. The committee has representatives from Grant Park, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, Edgewood, Kirkwood, and East Lake, as well as Oakland Cemetery, the City of Atlanta, and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. This committee was created out of the Imagine Memorial study commissioned by Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong in 2014 (more background here).
Following this crash, the group drafted a letter to the GDOT Commissioner repeating their safety concerns about Memorial Drive and offering a list of short-term and long-term projects to address them. A draft is available to view here and a final version will be shared soon. This letter is just one response in an ongoing campaign to make this state route safer and more accessible for the thousands of people who use it daily. Residents are encouraged to reach out to their elected officials and GDOT staff themselves, using this letter or with their own concerns.
To be clear: This is frustrating work that takes a long time. Residents who have been living with these conditions have every reason to be frustrated by the pace of progress. They have every reason to be skeptical that Imagine Memorial or anything else will result in meaningful change. This Corridor and others like it in the region have been studied and planned exhaustively, with little to show for it. That said, we can report progress on the following fronts:
- Ongoing, meaningful participation from GDOT: A representative of GDOT has attended nearly every single meeting related to the Imagine Memorial process, even when other public agencies have not been available. They have been extremely responsive and attentive at all times up to the highest levels of the organization, even when they can’t offer immediate solutions.
- Funding of a traffic study to model a three-lane “road diet”: This study cost $130,000 and was paid completely from GDOT’s operations budget. This doesn’t mean changes will happen automatically. It does give us updated traffic data and a forecast of what the long-term congestion impacts would be using GDOT’s current methodology. No significant changes are going to happen without this information. The final report is expected in coming weeks.
- Planning support and funding from the Atlanta Regional Commission:
A major priority for the eastern half of the Corridor (NPU-O) has been obtaining funding for a Livable Centers Initiative plan. A past application seeking funds for this part of the Corridor was rejected. We’ve been successful in revisiting that through the Imagine Memorial study and we were awarded funds ($32,000 from ARC, $8,000 from Councilmembers Archibong and Smith) to do a new corridor-wide LCI plan that includes NPU-O. A Request For Proposals (RFP) for this work will be issued this month and there will be multiple ways to participate.
- Better coordination of existing projects: It’s not that there aren’t funded projects to improve Memorial Drive. It’s that those projects have been in limbo for a variety of reasons and they haven’t been coordinated in a cohesive way. We’re now steering these projects, advocating for them to be funded sooner, and amplifying the effect they would have if completed separately. For example: There is currently ARC funding slated for safety improvements on Memorial between Moreland and Candler (PI #0012597). The issue was disagreement with GDOT over what those safety improvements should be: A road diet or just upgrades to signals and sidewalks? That debate was largely stalled until the Imagine Memorial process provided a venue to reopen it. And now that project could be supplemented with other funding sources for greater safety benefits.
- Planning and advocacy for pedestrian, bike, and transit alternatives: Obviously it’s going to take a long time for Memorial Drive to become a safer, more welcoming urban street. That’s why we don’t take “Memorial Drive” too literally: We’re also planning and advocating for investments that help people move around the neighborhoods, too. These include:
- The Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail, Southside Trail, and future transit
- New and enhanced MARTA service, including I-20 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
- The Trolley Trail connecting the PATH Foundation Stone Mountain Trail to the BeltLine.
- Woodward Avenue as a safer east-west bike alternative to Memorial, including a safer crossing at Boulevard.
- Upgrading MLK Jr. Drive as a “Complete Street” into Downtown, alongside the Memorial Drive Greenway.
- Aesthetic and safety improvements to nearby MARTA rail stations
- “Neighborhood greenway” projects that will calm traffic and improve walking and biking along neighborhood streets like Oakview, La France, Hardee, and others.
That’s a lot of information for now. Seeing all this through will take years and tens of millions of dollars. The good news is that funding is available from a range of federal, state, and local sources. What we need is continued commitment and involvement from residents to make sure these projects are prioritized and executed as quickly as possible. We need you to express your concerns to your elected officials and stay involved with your neighborhood organizations and other advocacy groups. We need you to understand the trade-offs that inevitably come with some safety solutions, such as restricted access, vehicular delays at some intersections, or potential spillover onto local streets. The Atlanta region will continue to grow, regardless of one development on Memorial Drive or another. The only question is whether we accept that Memorial Drive remains a high-speed commuting route only for drivers or something more with a range of travel options and amenities that is safer for everyone, including drivers.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. We are working on dozens of new blog posts digging into the details of this work that will be posted here. Please take a look around and reach out with any questions or suggestions of what you want to see.
Memorial Drive Corridor Executive
Mobile: (404) 895-3082