{News & Views} When walking home becomes a crime

Take note pedestrians, in Austell, GA jaywalking is a more serious crime than driving drunk.

In what amounts to a declaration of war on pedestrians, a small town near Atlanta, Georgia has convicted the mother of a child killed while she and others were trying to walk home from the bus of vehicular homicide, while allowing the drunk driver who ran over the child and then fled the scene off with a six month slap on the wrist.

According to the local paper:

Nelson was attempting to cross at the intersection of Austell Road and Austell Circle with her three children when her son was struck by a car, said Savoy. The child later died from his injuries.

If you’ll check out the photo above, you will see the bus stop and the apartment complex the Nelson family called home. You will also see that there is no crosswalk. In fact, to cross at the nearest legal crossing requires adding a half mile walk to their trip. To some people, that half mile walk seemed reasonable. More specifically, to the Cobb County prosecutor and the 6 “peers” who made up the jury who convicted her. Yet none of those peers (and I’m willing to bet the prosecutor) had ever so much as taken the bus in their city. Not even once. To quote from the Transportation for America blog

They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.

PBS did a story on this same issue on another street in the same Metro area, which is a real eye-opener.

As more people across the country try to use their cars less, or are simply unable to afford the luxury of one, situations which pit pedestrians and bicyclists against cars are becoming more and common. Some drivers just cannot comprehend that roads were built for everyone and even resort to using their cars as weapons to assert their imagined dominance. Urban planners will spend millions building crossings for wildlife, while in contrast, funding for pedestrian projects is often hard to come by. Prosecuting pedestrians and cyclists for the “crime” of being hit by a car is one tactic used by governments across the country to unfairly stack the deck even more against the poor and those who are simply trying to live a simpler lifestyle. Some cities (like my own) even refuse to take responsibility for sidewalk repairs, and then criminalize joggers and pedestrians for not using the broken, dangerous paths.

In contrast, cities like New York and Paris have seen dramatic differences by closing some of their main roads to cars for extended stretches of time, turning once smoggy streets into beaches and parks.

There have been plenty of studies showing the amazing benefits of including bicycles and pedestrians in urban planning equations. Walkscore lists just a few here:

Environment: Cars are a leading cause of climate change. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.
Health: The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 6-10 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.
Finances: One point of Walk Score is worth up to $3,000 of value for your property.
Communities: Studies show that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.

So what can you do to help make your city more walkable? One of the first steps is here – a petition to ask the federal government not to cut dedicated pedestrian and cyclist funding from the latest transportation bill (something they are trying to do). Get involved with your neighborhood association and find out about projects that will affect where you live. So often bills get passed and funding gets granted without the people living in the neighborhood even knowing what was at stake. When we become more aware neighbors, we can drastically affect the future of our communities.
Last but not least, if you drive a car, look around you. Take note of bus stops and crosswalks and bike lanes. Be more courteous in your own day, a little compassion goes a long way.

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  1. That’s really sad. I just don’t understand the logic of the authorities in this situation. You mentioned that sometimes cyclists and pedestrians are pitted against vehicular drivers, and I can relate to that. I was cycling this weekend, and when a car pulled out right in front of me on a quiet roadway from a parking lot, I rang my bell (I had to brake to avoid hitting him). He looked at me very angrily, and shouted “I SAW YOU, F*** O**”. I don’t know why he was so angry, but it scares me that there are people like that sharing the roads with me on a bike! I hope attitudes change soon, where people are more considerate of all means of transportation.

  2. My husband suggests what he calls “Up & Overs”. Rather than vehicle overpasses we need human overpasses!!!

  3. My husband suggests building what he calls “Up & Overs”. Instead of car overpasses we need more human overpasses.

  4. wow, this is truly tragic. In drivers ed, a few years, ago for me, we learned pedestrians always have the right of way even if they’re in the middle of the street. I don’t see how someone could hit a child and not want to take responsibility for it and instead the mother is blamed for either not having enough money for public transport or a car, or caring about the environment. It’s really sad what this world has come to and how people think.

    • This area is known for it’s poor response to public transportation needs. In fact, this county has it’s own separate bus system. The reason for this is blatantly racist, the people in power did not want to connect to the system which the rest of Metro Atlanta uses because they were concerned about the demographics of the inner city. Another neighboring county has done the same, so in a roughly 50 square mile section of the state, there are three different bus systems, which do not work together to anyone’s convenience.

  5. Great post!!! Excellent!!!

  6. There is a petition on change.org for everyone to sign on behalf of the mother asking the judge to “Release Grieving Mother of Hit-and-Run & Install a Crosswalk”:


  7. Here in Louisville we have a mixed bag of transportation pluses and negatives. On the positive side our last and current mayor are committed to making Louisville a walkable/bike-able city. We have a few (not enough) bike lanes and several great parks that all interconnect with each other including a park that runs along the river and has great bike paths. On the other hand we are one of those cities trying to make the citizens responsible for sidewalk upkeep. There was a story recently in the news about the ways the city is trying to pass it’s responsibility on to us. It makes you feel like there is just one more thing against you if you are poor and unable to respond to these challenges with a financial solution. It’s very sad that so many cities are in this shape.

  8. Another article I read about this indicated that the county spent more money prosecuting this mother than it would have taken to add crosswalks on the entire stretch of road. =/

    • That’s just sad. She has lost her child and had to go to court. Then to top it off they could have fixed the problem for what it took to completely ruin her life. Sometimes we have our values all screwed around in this country.

      • Worse, the drunk guy who hit them and ran only got charged with hit and run, despite it being his THIRD offense. It’s so upsetting.

  9. As a gal who grew up in the northeast US public transportation, biking and crosswalks are a way of life. When the first laws were put in place that those crossing had the right of way they cracked down pretty hardcore in Arlington, MA and cops would actually pull you over & ticket you for not stopping. That helped to drive the point home and now most people do stop. This story saddens me however. How about instead of prosecuting/ticketing anyone use this as an opportunity to effect change? Do like Tucson, AZ did, put flasher lights over the road with signs “Stop when flashing” and paint crosswalks on every other corner! Not to say everyone will be smart/cautions enough to stop but it could at least help.