On September 6, 2019, 14-year-old Jermaine “J.J.” Wallace, Jr. was killed by a speeding driver as he waited for the school bus on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.
“His mother rushed to the scene to find her son in critical condition laying in the street. Paramedics rushed the Douglas High freshman to Grady Memorial Hospital, but he did not survive. Dorothy Porter, who is a mother of four, fought back tears as she talked to FOX 5 Aungelique Proctor about the unexpected loss. ‘My son was the life of this house. My son was everywhere. Everybody loved Jermaine Jr. Everybody. My son was an honor roll student. He never missed school,’ Ms. Porter recalled."
In Atlanta, some 8% of Atlanta’s streets account for 88% of fatalities and 52% of severe injuries, and just 10 streets account for one-third of traffic fatalities. Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, named after the prominent Atlanta civil rights attorney, is among the ten most dangerous corridors forming Atlanta’s High-Injury Network.
High-Injury Network streets are not evenly distributed across the city — in fact, roughly two-thirds of the network is located west of Northside Drive or south of I-20. On the whole, neighborhoods with more miles of the High-Injury Network had lower median incomes, a larger share of Black residents, higher rates of walking, biking, and taking transit to work, and lower rates of vehicle ownership.
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Pedestrian Safety Action Plan says Donald Lee Hollowell is one of the “top corridors in Georgia with clear patterns of pedestrian crashes that resulted in serious or fatal injuries,” and in 2019 its Atlanta Intown Multimodal Safety Analysis Study found that Hollowell was among the corridors with high rates of people being hit by speeding drivers.
For decades, residents have decried the lives lost and advocated for safety improvements for Donald Lee Hollowell. Tragically, their efforts were ignored — until recently.
In 2018, the City of Atlanta asked the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to make a section of Hollowell near the Bankhead MARTA station safer with a lane reduction to reduce speed. GDOT’s District 7 denied the request at the time, but the pressure to prioritize safety over speed on state routes continued to grow. Community activism combined with attention from the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, PEDS, other organizations, elected officials, and City staff, along with GDOT’s own safety goals finally led to concrete results.
In 2019, following J.J.’s death, neighborhood leaders and elected officials organized a series of town hall meetings called “One Corridor.” Alongside public agencies and state elected officials, community members discussed the challenges facing people trying to use or cross Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.
Around this time, GDOT initiated an analysis of state routes in Atlanta. The study, released in 2020, found that redesigning the most dangerous corridors could save lives through safer street designs (find out why some roads are more dangerous than others).
One year after J.J.’s passing, in 2020, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) responded to community calls for safety with the announcement that it would install three signalized crossings on the corridor. GDOT installed one pedestrian crossing, outside the Johnnie B. Moore Towers senior center, in January 2021. As of May 7, 2021, the power company had not turned on electricity to the signal. The timeline for the remaining two signalized crosswalks, planned for Woods Drive and Eugenia Place, remained to be determined.
But better news was on the horizon.
In the summer of 2020, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition gathered community members to form the Donald Lee Hollowell Safe Streets Committee with support from the Energy Foundation. Following six weeks of training on the basics of safe street design and advocacy, the committee got to work.
Now, there's a major milestone for a safer Hollowell — the announcement that GDOT will convert 2.8 miles of the corridor to three lanes with a center turn lane. The safety project is intended to meet community demands to reduce the dangerous speeds, add a buffer between the roadway and the sidewalk, and make crossing the street on foot, bike/scooter, or wheelchair safer and easier.
This safety project, shown here on GDOT’s website, "proposes a 4-to-3-lane road diet between SR 280 / Hamilton E. Holmes Dr / James Jackson Pkwy and Stiff St. The project would reduce total crashes by as much 47% and create space within existing right-of-way to install short strategic medians for pedestrian refuge/prohibiting unsafe conflict points, turn lanes, and pedestrian crossings along the corridor."
At one end of this project, the intersection with Hamilton E. Holmes Drive / James Jackson Parkway, Hollowell transitions to two lanes. At the other end is Stiff Street, just past the Bankhead MARTA station. At this intersection, Hollowell has been widened to fluctuate between four and five lanes with a median.
A representative of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms stated that her support for reducing the number of lanes on Hollowell, saying “she has made it clear that the safety improvements on Donald Lee Hollowell are a priority.”
The Donald Lee Hollowell Safe Streets Committee noted,
“We are honored to advocate for a corridor with such an inspirational namesake. Donald Lee Hollowell’s work should be further honored by improving the street to prioritize safety and inclusion.”
- High-Injury Network
- Georgia Department of Transportation Pedestrian Safety Action Plan
- Georgia Department of Transportation Board member Stacey Key celebrating the long road to a safer Donald Lee Hollowell in the AJC
- GDOT Project Information: 0017926 SR 8/US 278 FROM SR 280 TO CS 6701/STIFF STREET
Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in the news
- "Microsoft's planned Grove Park campus, other projects, spur urgency for pedestrian safety" (Atlanta Business Chronicle, July 2021)
- "Opinion: Improving safety on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway Corridor" (AJC, April 2021)
- "False text message enraged Atlanta residents over road project" (AJC, Feb 2021)
- "Atlanta council may override of mayor's veto on road deal" (AJC, Feb 2021)
- "'Relief' comes to Hollowell Parkway as crosswalk installed on deadly stretch of road" (AJC, Jan 2021)
- "Pedestrian unfriendly: after deaths on Hollowell Parkway, residents await fixes" (AJC, Oct 2020)
- "Police say pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver" (AJC, Sep 2020)
- "GDOT to add crosswalk where 14-year-old was hit, killed while waiting for school bus" (AJC, Jan 2020)
- "Mother of teen killed in hit and run speaks" (Fox 5 Atlanta, Sep 2019)
- "Teen hit by car walking to school remembered for his kindness: He was a 'one-of-a-kind child'" (King5, Sep 2019)
Support the Donald Lee Hollowell Safe Streets Committee to make Hollowell safe for people by signing this petition to build the safety project, shown here on GDOT’s website. The project would include a "4-to-3-lane road diet between SR 280 / Hamilton E. Holmes Dr / James Jackson Pkwy and Stiff St. The project would reduce total crashes by as much 47% and create space within existing right-of-way to install short strategic medians for pedestrian refuge/prohibiting unsafe conflict points, turn lanes, and pedestrian crossings along the corridor." You'll also receive updates on opportunities to get involved as the project advances.
Celebrating a win! In April 2020, the City of Atlanta approved Safe Speeds & Vision Zero legislation. Read more.
What's next for the goal of setting safe speeds?
- Because the legislation adopted does not cover all streets, we are seeking expansion to cover collector streets (e.g. Atlanta Student Movement Blvd) and minor arterials (e.g., Cascade Road).
- Legislation passed by Atlanta City Council in May 2020 reduced the speed limit on Hosea Williams Dr (a collector) from 35 to 25 mph. This originated with a neighborhood transportation committee request in fall 2019 so neighborhood advocates, let us know if you'd like help reducing the limit on a street in your community!
It’s a constant complaint in every neighborhood meeting: Drivers are going too fast. For some Atlantans, it’s just a nuisance or a fact of life in a city. For people who use our streets outside of vehicles (that’s everyone at some point), even a small increase in driving speed becomes a matter of life or death in a collision.
In 2018, 6,283 pedestrians and 857 cyclists were killed in the U.S. That means a pedestrian or cyclist was killed somewhere in the U.S. every 73 minutes. That number is the highest it has been in 30 years, even though overall traffic fatalities went down slightly last year. This doesn’t include an unknown number of scooter-related fatalities since they rolled out nationwide since 2018.
On top of that, children, older adults, and people of color face a disproportionate risk of injury and death walking on our streets. This is a serious issue in Georgia. Our state moved from #10 to #6 in a national ranking of pedestrian danger based on fatalities from 2008 to 2017.
Atlanta stands out when it comes to deaths in pedestrian crashes by population. In 2017, Atlanta ranked 23rd out of the 175 largest cities in the nation for our pedestrian fatality rate: that’s how many pedestrians were killed as a percentage of total traffic fatalities. What that number tells us is that pedestrians are especially vulnerable in our city.
Slower streets are safer and better for people.
It’s simple: The faster a driver is going in a collision, the more likely a pedestrian will be killed or seriously injured. That seems obvious, but it’s important to understand that a small change in speed can have a significant difference in the outcome. From a driver’s perspective, the difference between 15 mph and 30 mph is a light tap on the gas pedal. For a person walking across the street, a small change in speed can be the difference between a bad day and a life-changing injury or death.
Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that the risk of severe injury or death of a pedestrian quickly increases with speed.
The risk for children and elderly pedestrians is even greater at lower speeds. The animated graphic below was created by ProPublica from the same AAA data:
On top of that, the popularity of SUVs brings a higher risk of injury and death when compared to conventional cars, in part because it’s more likely that pedestrians will be run over rather than roll up onto the hood. We’ll save the topic of distracted driving for another day (it’s not good).
It’s not only the force at which a driver strikes a pedestrian that is important. Higher speeds reduce the sight distance and reaction time a driver needs to avoid a collision in the first place. The images below show a driver’s field of vision at different speeds. When speed goes up, it’s more difficult for drivers to see and respond to objects and people outside that view.
(Source: NACTO Urban Street Design Guide)
Reducing speed limits is an effective way to reduce speed.
Cities across the United States and the world are reducing speed limits as one way to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. Vision Zero is an international movement that Atlanta must join if we are going to truly realize our commitments to equity, mobility, and sustainability. That’s why speed limits and Vision Zero are important parts of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s policy platform.
By reducing the speed limit, top outlier speeds are reduced. In Boston, default speed limits on most local streets were set at 25 mph. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found the odds of drivers exceeding 35 mph fell by almost 30%. In Seattle, the city has established 25mph speed limits on all its arterial streets and 20 mph on all its local streets. In a pilot study in Springfield, Missouri, reducing the speed limit in some neighborhoods from 30 mph to 25 mph had a proven effect of slightly slowing down all driver speeds, even with no other street changes.
Citywide speed limits are still a relatively new trend in the United States and it will take more time to see data on their benefits. There is a large body of evidence in other countries showing the safety benefits of reduced speed limits. In Bristol, UK, researchers found a 63% reduction in fatal injuries since a city-wide 20 mph (30 kph) speed limit was enacted.
Lower speeds don’t necessarily mean it will take longer to get where you’re going in a city. During the times of day when traffic in Atlanta is the most congested, speeds on many streets average less than 25 mph. What's more, 25 mph allows vehicles to travel a more consistent pace with fewer stops and starts, smoothing traffic flow. In fact, in congested conditions, traffic can flow better at lower speeds. Often in Atlanta, drivers are only driving at high speeds between traffic lights, which is both unsafe and inefficient.
Redesigning streets takes a lot of time and money. We will continue to advocate aggressively for engineering solutions to make our streets safer, including protected lanes, crosswalks, traffic calming, signal phasing, and much more. Lower speed limits won’t solve everything, but lower speed limits will help save lives right now while we continue investing in the future.
It's time to adopt safe speed limits in Atlanta.
The following neighborhoods and NPUs have approved this campaign by a vote of their members:
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- Capitol View Neighborhood Association
- Center Hill Neighborhood Association
- Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association
- Chosewood Park Neighborhood Association
- Grant Park Neighborhood Association
- Midtown Neighbors' Association
- Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League
- NPU I
- NPU J
- NPU W