Tue., July 1, 2014 5:05pm (EDT)

The Push Is On For Safer Streets In Georgia
By Leah Fleming
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Updated: 1 month ago

MACON, Ga.  —  
Esther Muhammad stands on the median of Gray Highway in Macon where her son was hit by a car (photo: L. Fleming)
Esther Muhammad stands on the median of Gray Highway in Macon where her son was hit by a car (photo: L. Fleming)
Three men were struck by a pickup truck and killed while trying to cross I-85 in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs Tuesday morning.

While police say it appears the men were intoxicated, this accident does highlight the fact that Georgia is among a group of southern states with the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities. That’s according to a new study by the National Complete Streets Coalition. The report shows roads in Columbus, Atlanta and its northern suburbs are very dangerous for people on foot. But Macon tops the list when it comes to per capita pedestrian deaths in Georgia.

In 2013, nine walkers were killed by cars within the former city limits of Macon. One of those pedestrians was Daniel "The Poet" Muhammad. Around 1:30 a.m. on September 24, Muhammad was walking home on the median of Gray Highway. The 25-year-old was struck by a car and killed instantly.

Daniel’s mother, Esther Muhammad, says this was the second time her son was hit by a car. The first time, she remembers, he was 16-years-old.

“The way Jeffersonville Road is made, there’s a blind spot coming from a certain distance, especially if the sun is beaming. And the driver didn’t see him.”

Daniel’s twin sister watched in horror as he was thrown about two houses down the road. He landed on his face, crushing every bone. Doctors rebuilt Daniel’s face and put a plate in head.

After that, Muhammad says, her son was a good walker. He knew how to negotiate traffic as expertly as a typical New Yorker. That’s why she was shocked to hear he had been hit again.

Gray Highway, like many streets in the south, is very wide, with no sidewalks. If you look at the shoulder of the road you can see a beaten path in the grass where pedestrians regularly walk.

The bus route ends close to a shopping plaza, so walkers living in the dozens of apartments nearby have no choice but to hoof it.

After accidents like Daniel’s, police are quick to caution pedestrians to wear light colored clothing, carry a flashlight and use the crosswalks.

But to victims and their families, that advice sounds a lot like blaming the victim.

The problem, say street safety advocates, is road design. Streets like Gray Highway are only designed to move motorists safely, not people on foot or bicycle.

Jim Thomas, Executive Director of Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission, says one death is too many, but it’s really disturbing to see the numbers go as high as they are.

“The road projects that will be done in Macon-Bibb need to be done under a complete streets scenario where we better accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, but we also need to go back and retrofit where we can those locations that are already on the ground. “

Thomas acknowledges that the portion of Gray Highway where Daniel died needs sidewalks. He says that if it were being built today, sidewalks would be included.

“Of course the big issue is always funding,” he said.

Macon road planners will attend a workshop this summer to explore ways to retrofit existing streets and build new ones that are safer for all modes of transportation.


Watch GPB's video documentary, "In Memory Of The Poet" below: