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Sadly, more than 1,300 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Georgia in 2013.
Beyond the terrible heartache for the families and friends of those involved, these crashes amounted to more than $1.6 billion in medical and work-loss costs.
Buford Highway, an eight-mile corridor in Atlanta known for authentic international restaurants, is the most dangerous road for pedestrians in Georgia. Located on the northeast side of Atlanta, which is largely Latino, there were 22 pedestrian fatalities from 2003 to 2012 on Buford Highway.
What can reverse this grave trend and save the lives of Latinos and the livelihood of those restaurants?
Cars vs. Pedestrians
Many cities are plagued by wide roadways, like Buford Highway.
Even though this road offers many restaurants, it doesn’t efficiently move cars from Point A to Point B. It doesn’t provide inviting spaces for people to stroll. It’s dangerous for cars and pedestrians.
When families don’t have safe places to walk, their health suffers.
Latinos, in particular, face disparities in health as well as traffic fatalities and serious injury.
Roads intended for high-speed, through traffic—like Buford Highway—are not being updated to match growth with alternative forms of transportation, like walking and biking, making rush hour congested and dangerous. Thus neighborhood streets become alternate routes for speeding commuters.
Additionally, lack of affordable housing pushes Latinos and new immigrants into underserved neighborhoods that lack safe sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks.
Complicating matters is that, in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area of Georgia, many people don’t even own a car. Over 13% of households in Chamblee and nearly 11% in Doraville don’t own a vehicle, compared to the national average of 4.5%, meaning they need alternate modes of transportation to avoid isolation and access healthcare and services.
Mobility, accessibility, safety and health suffer when people can’t get where they need to go.
Working to Improve Buford Highway
Buford Highway has numerous driveways and curb cuts to access parking lots and businesses, and the road cuts through multiple municipalities, such as Chamblee (38% Latino) and Doraville (50% Latino).
Any improvements to Buford Highway will require negotiations with dozens of business owners across different cities.
Since 2000, the Atlanta Regional Commission has encouraged local communities to improve walkability through the Livable Centers Initiative, a grant program funded with federal transportation dollars.
In 2016, the City of Chamblee and the City of Doraville joined to improve connectivity and pedestrian safety (as well as affordable housing) on a six-mile stretch of Buford Highway.
- reducing traffic lanes and driveways to create uninterrupted sidewalks and bike lanes;
- redeveloping vacant, poorly maintained properties;
- installing traffic signals that prioritize buses; and
- adding trees.
As cities across the country improve pedestrian safety, they see property values go up and low-income and minority families move out, changing the social and cultural character of the neighborhood.
In addition to making Buford Highway safer, the two cities also want to prevent the displacement of its immigrant communities and their businesses, particularly their restaurants.
One method to maintain affordable housing is to provide incentives for developers to set aside a portion of new housing units for low-income residents.
Although major street improvements are expected to take 10 years, local organizations are working now to create an environment that is more welcoming for pedestrians.
For example, We Love BuHi is working to build trust between city planners and the people who live and work in the area.
One way is through art.
They are working with local artists to celebrate different immigrant cultures along Buford Highway through murals, colored asphalt and outdoor seating.
With many of the retail storefronts separated from the street by large parking lots, and few clear, safe paths to navigate while walking, the murals humanize an intimidating landscape for people on foot ”Angie Schmitt