By Beth Volpert Johansen
While statistics do indicate drivers need to change their behaviors, it remains open to interpretation just what will cause drivers to make those needed changes. For one Grayson resident who has seen more than enough accidents up and down Grayson Parkway/GA Hwy 84 near her subdivision, enough was enough. Spurred on by two recent fatalities near her Haynes Crossing home, Ida Heslop sat down to write a letter to the editor. The paper posted her letter online. Her resolve to do something to change the driving habits of drivers near her neighborhood was further strengthened by the continuous and supportive online commentary in response to her letter.
Ida’s Letter to the Editor:
We have to do something!
I am a resident of Haynes Crossing, on Grayson Parkway, for 13 years; our sister community is Haynes Preserve.
1) Botts’ Dots or rumble strips placed on the turn-in lane for Haynes Preserve (motorists use this lane as a means of getting around the car waiting to make a left onto Ridgedale Drive SW). We strongly feel that if dots or strips were placed on this line it will deter cars from crossing it; at the very least ‘slow them down’.
2) Also, add a yellow flashing light on Grayson Parkway directly in front of Ridgedale Drive SW (so many accidents/deaths here; for one cars have to stick themselves way out to see if anyone is coming from their left due to overgrown grass/hanging tree branches; then look right…motorists not heeding to oncoming traffic-flashing light might help make them pay better attention).
3) Add a small line of dots or rumble strips on ‘curve’ adjacent to Haynes Crossing.
4) Make speed limit 45 mph for the entire length of Grayson Parkway; remove the 50 mph sign (motorists interpret 50 mph to mean go 60+ mph taking the curve in the road way too fast, and shooting past Ridgedale Drive SW way too fast).
Within just a short two months we have witnessed two people too many die in car accidents here. Not to mention car wrecks with no fatalities. As the population in this area increases so are the accidents. This road has many U.S. Postal trucks, School Buses, Garbage Trucks … if we can’t get this done for our families do it for them. Help, please!
If we can get more people to Speak Up - we can get the help we need for all who use these roads.
One simple sentence, contained within a heartfelt letter to the editor by a concerned citizen, started a flood of local support. “When I left my neighborhood that day the accident happened, I was praying it wasn’t fatal,” recalls Ida. “I got so upset when I found out it was fatal, I drafted that letter and sent it out; I just did it.” Ida’s letter posed a call to action as she reached out to her community. Her letter outlined some suggestions, but seemed to fall short of answering, What do we need to do?
Knowing who and how to reach out to regarding road concerns is a very good question.
Ida answered her own question by researching what steps to take in order to call attention to the need for road safety improvements on Grayson Parkway/GA Hwy 84. As she reached out, more answers began to take form in a trail of emails and Facebook posts to, and responses from, the State DOT, Gwinnett County DOT, and Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter.
After speaking with the Departments of Transportation, Ida was able to determine a way to proceed. It seemed that the areas she was concerned about ran up and down a Georgia state highway, but was intersected by several county roads. This meant that she had to alert both local and state officials in order to voice her requests.
According to Gwinnett County DOT www.gwinnettcounty.com/portal/gwinnett/Departments/Transportation Division Director, Chuck Bailey, his office received a request from the State of Georgia DOT to begin a traffic study at the intersection of Ridgedale Drive and Grayson Parkway/GA Hwy 84. While the other intersecting roads were of concern, Ida was most concerned with the hard curve in the road near Haynes Crossing and approaching Ridgedale Drive.
In addition to the community input generated by Ida’s letter, the State of Georgia DOT had also been alerted to two recent (2015) fatalities at the same stretch of Grayson Parkway. GDOT spokesperson, Terri Pope explained the daily fatality report as a constant reminder that the DOT has a responsibility to not only make certain the roads have the proper improvements, but also to educate the public on how deadly the results of distracted driving can be. “We call these crashes, not accidents,” says Terri. “The most recent trend this year is an increase in drowsy driving which is in addition to distracted driving.”
District Traffic Engineer at The Georgia Department of Transportation, David Olson took time to explain the procedure involved in requesting a traffic study as the first in a series of steps that may result in a specific traffic improvement. Additionally, he spoke to the loss of any life as a difficult part of the job that often motivates the public to begin pressing for action. “You can have the perfect roadway, but drivers make mistakes,” says Olson. “We take into consideration all of the facts of what happens at a certain place as an indication that something needs to be fixed.” After those facts are considered and the indicators are found to be favorable for a change, the GDOT typically refers the matter to the particular county DOT for a traffic study.
Open Records Requests show a total of 19 accidents spanning the timeframe of January 2010 to December 2014 (source: GDOT MVAR database 2010-2014) which occurred at the intersection. The report was non-specific about accidents just north or south of Ridgedale Drive. No additional accident data was available for 2015 as of July 31, 2015. According to an open records request from Gwinnett County DOT, an average of 8,090 cars travel Grayson Parkway/GA Hwy 84 daily.
“Gwinnett County DOT has agreed to provide updated counts and turn data when traffic patterns settle in after school starts,” says Chuck Bailey. “When that is completed, GADOT will review the data according to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov.” Bailey also makes it a point to continue communicating with the person who brought the request from the community. “We let the citizen know that we have completed the study and update any information.”
Community Concerns and Representation
When the Gwinnett community becomes involved in the need to effect change, the County Board of Commissioners is often the first stop. “Citizens are always encouraged to communicate with their commissioners on traffic issues,” says Bailey. Finding the correct representative begins with the Gwinnett County website: www.GwinnettCounty.com which gives district information, email addresses, and phone numbers to all departments.
Finding local support was key to Ida. She chose to write a letter to the editor in order to gain the attention of the local community. She knew, in her heart, that others had to have similar feelings and she was right. The online response to her letter was overwhelmingly supportive with residents in several of the neighborhoods lining Grayson Parkway/GA Hwy 84 voicing agreement that something must be done to slow the traffic along the route and provide safer conditions for making turns. “I have to admit, I was taken by surprise by the response; I will do what is necessary to keep bringing attention to this,” says Ida. “Something has to change.”
A roadmap for citizens to facilitate a change to traffic concerns
Below is a basic guide for facilitating changes to traffic control devices, intersection safety, and other roadway requests.
•Determine whether the roads in question are state, county, city, or a combination. This will be a part of gathering data. Note: Even if a roadway is designated as a state route, the Georgia DOT will take the request from citizens and likely forward the request to the local DOT.
•Get reports and facts together. Learn about Open Records Request from the county website: www.gwinnettcounty.com/portal/gwinnett/Departments/County
OpenRecords). (ask for traffic counts and any prior studies).
•Contact the local police by requesting accident and fatality reports. Instructions for getting started can be found at (www.gwinnettcounty.com/portal/gwinnett/Departments/County
OpenRecords), look for the information specific to the police department.
•www.gwinnettcountysheriff.com may be of help for obtaining records involving the sheriff’s department.
•Request records and any prior reports from the state and county Departments of Transportation on the roads. www.dot.ga.gov/Documents/Offices/OpenRecordsRequest.pdf www.gwinnettcounty.com/portal/gwinnett/Departments/Transportation
•Make sure your local county commissioners are informed of your requests and updated progress. www.gwinnettcounty.com/portal/gwinnett/Departments/
•Take your facts to the State and/or County Department of Transportation to request a traffic study. www.dot.ga.gov *The State typically defers to the county for a traffic study, but needs to be informed if you are dealing with a state road.
•Monitor the progress of the traffic study by keeping in touch with the local and state area DOT traffic engineer assigned to the study.
•After the traffic study has been completed, the DOT will utilize the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov) to determine if the study results are enough to bring about change to the road. If the study isn’t enough, make sure all the data you collected has also been included in the traffic study to further your cause and make sure all responsible officials are copied on any correspondence.
•Learn to use the internet for research and outreach, but remember, meeting key people in per son is helpful in getting things started and keeping them moving.
•Log everything in your notes with dates and times.
•Funding comes from a variety of state, county, federal, and local sources-question your repre sentatives for information on how, if mandated, the traffic control device will be installed and paid for. •Rally your community to continue contacting county commissioners and other elected officials at each step along the way until the intersection improvement has been installed.
Important Things to keep in mind
Year-to-date fatality statistics for the State of GA are staggering with 746 fatalities in 2015 vs 657 at the same time in 2014 . With this in mind, the GDOT has launched a new initiative called “Drive Alert. Arrive Alive.” to remind drivers that maintaining safe roadways is an important part of the process. The goal of this statewide safety campaign is to educate drivers about how making simple changes in their driving behavior can prevent crashes and save lives. The campaign is a partnership between Georgia DOT, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and the Department of Public Safety. (source: GA DOT) Highway Safety and the Department of Public Safety. (source: GA DOT)