The state of Georgia has decided people should not walk along Northside Parkway in Buckhead.
They didn’t make a public service announcement, post signs or block the sidewalks with orange barrels and yellow tape. Quite the opposite, they installed handsome, new sidewalks with brick pavers as part of the improvements around the intersection with Moores Mill Road.
Their desire to keep pedestrians off the stretch of state highway is a bit subtler, but not that subtle.
In full disclosure, this is our neighborhood, West Paces, formerly known as the West Paces Northside Neighborhood. That stretch of Northside from Moores Mill to West Paces Ferry Road is part of a loop we walk and jog.
It is not without peril.
Our quiet little neighborhood is fine. A cul-de-sac off of West Paces Ferry Road, there is just one way in and out. The only traffic is neighbors, and while some have interesting driving habits, we don’t feel the need to put a “Slow Down; Children Playing” sign on the street in front of the house.
When we venture beyond the neighborhood, though, it is another story.
West Paces Ferry Road is not for the faint of heart. Drivers seemingly have no concept people may be out for a stroll on the sidewalks. Most drive entirely too fast for what we consider a neighborhood road. Whenever we have our dogs with us, we keep them between us and the lawns and we keep their leashes short.
I get the sense an oblivious driver looking down at their phone could jump that curb at any moment. I try to make eye contact with as many drivers as I can just see if they are paying attention. Spoiler alert: A vast majority are not. My wife Lori likes to signal them with an exaggerated downward motion with her outstretched arm, meant to convey, “Slow down!” It has yet to work.
We walk down to Pinestream Road or Rilman Road and cross over to Northside, then back to where we started.
If walking along West Paces is not for the faint of heart, then Northside is not for anyone with a pulse. It is the Autobahn, with cars flying to and from Cobb County at alarming speeds.
The trick to walking there is the guardrail. Behind those unattractive steel rails is a thin, weedy sidewalk. As we are walking and the cars are whizzing by at a million miles per hour, those guardrails, as ugly as they are, offer a level of comfort.
For some staggering reason, with the redone portion of the intersection at Moores Mill, the state moved the guardrails to the other side of the sidewalks. Along that stretch, there is nothing but a strip of grass between pedestrians and the cars traveling at high rates of speed up and down the highway.
Our neighborhood leaders fought for years to have those guardrails improved, and we were all, I think, encouraged when the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) put the notoriously dangerous intersection on the to-do list. We could not have anticipated that they would make it more dangerous for pedestrians by moving the guardrails.
I was at a public meeting where GDOT officials discussed the construction to the neighborhood. The guardrails came up, as they always do. The official explanation is the guardrails are not there for pedestrians. Quite the opposite, the official said, adding pedestrians should not assume a guardrail is going to protect them if a car runs off the road.
That’s fair. But I can’t help but believe in just about every circumstance beyond a car running off the road at a 90-degree angle, the guardrail would lessen the chances of a fatality. For example, if someone wasn’t paying attention and drifted into the grass, the guardrail would be an effective reminder they have left the road. With a little damage to their car and a ticket for reckless driving, the driver would be on their way.
With no barrier there and someone walking on the sidewalk, that same scenario could end much, much worse.
The improvements are ongoing, and even though our neighborhood leaders have protested, the state did what it did and there’s not much to be done about it. The ultimate outcome, I’m afraid, is those pretty new sidewalks will be just that: pretty to look at but not much for walking.