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Greater Atlanta Continues to Treat Walking Like a Crime

1:02 PM EDT on October 2, 2012

Despite the national outrage over the Raquel Nelson case, officials in metro Atlanta continue to treat pedestrians like criminals.

Last Wednesday, a 35-year-old woman was hospitalized after being struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross a road in northwest Atlanta. A local Fox affiliate reports that the woman suffered injuries and is in "stable" condition. But police have already decided she, not the driver, was at fault. The victim is being charged with "pedestrian in the roadway," a legal term for "jaywalking."

Sally Flocks, director of Atlanta's pedestrian advocacy organization, PEDS, says it is not unusual for police officers in the region to cite and fault pedestrians involved in collisions, even as they're lying in hospital beds.

"For the cops, I think it gives them closure" to fault one of the parties, she said. "They could cite the driver for failing to show due care. They tend not to do that."

Part of the problem is that Georgia has one of the most draconian pedestrian laws in the country. Last year, the Georgia legislature passed a law that made it illegal for pedestrians and runners to use the roadway if there are sidewalks on the road.

"It’s being interpreted by police officers to make it illegal to cross the street," Flocks said.

The sad fact is that many of Atlanta's sidewalks are in terrible condition; the city had to pay $4 million in injury settlements last year as a result. Meanwhile, in the suburbs, pedestrians get cited for crossing the street outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk. But "jaywalking" laws aren't really designed to be applied outside of downtown areas, Flocks said.

PEDS documented at least one case earlier this year where police misinterpreted the law and wrongly charged a pedestrian. The organization has since begun a campaign to properly inform police officers and judges that every intersection is a crosswalk, even if it's not marked. Under Georgia law, pedestrians are only required to be inside a crosswalk if they are between two signalized intersections, Flocks said.

Even worse, despite discrimination claims around the Raquel Nelson case, local pedestrian advocates have reason to believe the law is being applied unevenly. Flocks said the citations tend to be concentrated in low-income and Hispanic neighborhoods. Streetsblog has submitted a public records request with the Atlanta Police Department inquiring about the races of those cited for "pedestrian in a roadway." We will report those results when we receive them.

Atlanta was named the 11th most dangerous metro for walking last year by Transportation for America.

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