Some readers think I should cover crime, zoning and the environment.
While all of these are important issues, that’s not what I do. I ignore most of it or share it with the editor, Everett Catts, when I feel it rises to his level. However, there is one provocateur to whose emails and social media tags I do pay attention.
His name is James Curtis.
Curtis gets around Buckhead by wheelchair. He is one of the hardest-working volunteers at Shepherd Center, where he has been lending a hand for more than a decade. He consistently and publicly struggles against the deplorable condition of our sidewalks, which makes life dangerous and difficult for people in his situation.
I first learned of Curtis when I was the editor of this paper. Every year, he swam laps to raise money for Ataxia research. Ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Curtis has Ataxia. Rather than be defined by it, he chose to raises awareness and to fight for a cure.
When he gets fired up about something, he usually includes me in the list of recipients. It’s useful to a degree. Just about every network, newspaper and radio station in Atlanta has taken up the mantle as a result of his outreach. The problem is, the sidewalks remain pitiful despite the attention.
That’s why I’ve decided to take your time and mine to write about this. It’s because I know how cruddy our sidewalks are. And here’s the rub — I grew up riding a bike up and down Peachtree Road in the 1970s and ’80s. Even back then there were areas where we’d have to swerve onto Peachtree because of the terrible condition of the sidewalks.
When my wife Lori and I lived in Peachtree Park, I walked up Piedmont Road to work at the Atlanta Business Chronicle. That walk usually resulted in a few phone calls. People assume if you are walking anywhere in Buckhead, either your car is broken down or you have three DUIs.
That sidewalk was broken and uneven with weeds growing through the large cracks. I can remember once trying to push our stroller with our children in it along that stretch and having to go into the road to get around impassible areas. That was the last time we attempted that route with small children.
That was 15 years ago.
There is a massive hole in that same sidewalk with an orange traffic cone in it right now. You can’t make this stuff up.
One of the recent emails Curtis sent was about a metal drain cover on Terrace Drive near the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center. The attached image showed a long metal plate the width of the sidewalk that fell into the drain because it was too narrow for the gap. It resulted in a five- to six-inch wide chasm, easy enough to step over, but impossible for someone in a wheelchair.
The email, which I was Cc’d on, reported it to Atlanta’s 311 service three weeks ago, which is how we report things that need immediate attention. I drove by it last week. It was still there, untouched, exactly as it appeared in the photo.
Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell likes to say fixing potholes has nothing to do with whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. The same goes for our sidewalks. It’s about what is acceptable. It is about what we demand from our city leaders.
When it comes to the sidewalks, there’s a lot of finger-pointing. The city folks point at the department of transportation, which turns with a shrug to the local utility companies, who can usually get a communications person to respond with a carefully worded statement.
But that stretch along Piedmont with which I am so familiar, and that stretch of Peachtree Road from the new Buckhead Village development to the Brookwood split, have been pitiful for a long time, decades even. It isn’t one company or one official or one administration.
It’s our fault for not demanding accountability.
If you are on the city council or in the mayor’s office, and you can’t figure out how to fix a broken sidewalk in your district, something is seriously broken (and it ain’t the sidewalk).
Just fix it.