In hopes of reducing excessive and unlawful speeding near school areas, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and the City of Atlanta have partnered with contractor Verra Mobility to implement a school zone speed safety program for multiple schools across the district.
APS Chief of Police Ronald Applin says the district and city collaborated to carry out the program because of the harm that speeding has brought to students walking to and from school.
“We [APS] have had two kids who were killed in school zones since I’ve been the Chief of Police,” Applin said. “So, one of the things that we wanted to do is try to get people in school zones to slow down. If you drive slower and someone steps into the street, you have a greater chance of stopping, and even if you hit someone, you’re less likely to cause more severe damage to that person.”
The program will roll out in phases and first launched on Aug. 18 at 10 APS school sites: Burgess-Peterson Academy, Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, Continental Colony Elementary School, Drew Charter Schools, E. Rivers Elementary School, Kindezi at Gideons Elementary School, Kimberly Elementary School, Miles Elementary School, Morris Brandon Elementary School (Main Campus) and R. N. Fickett Elementary School.
The first phase is a warning period, whereby anyone who commits a speeding violation – driving 10 or more miles over the speed limit – will be issued a warning. Applin said the district chose the first phase schools based on the number of potential violations at each site, but that a logistical error forced the district to recalculate.
“The company that we’re working with – Verra Mobility – did a study of every school zone, and based on that, we picked the most severe first and less severe last,” Applin said. “However, some roads were not certified by the state to be able to run speed detection, [so] we had to go back and just go with the ones that are certified. We’re working to get the other roads set up, so as they come on board, we’ll probably just pull in those roads and do 10 [schools] at a time.”
The system identifies any vehicle committing a speeding violation and captures events through a video camera. The cameras will detect the license plates of speeding cars, and this information will then be sent to the Atlanta Police Department (APD) who will complete multiple verifications to confirm the violation and then mail the driver a notice of the violation.
“Just think about the fact that we’re looking at speed [and] the road; we’re not focused on screening kids coming into the building or cameras monitoring kids inside the building,” Applin said. “It is significant in that we’re now focusing on the exterior roadway access for students to the school. I know we’ve gotten a lot of warnings that have gone out already, so we’re getting ahead of it; if people start slowing down, we’ll definitely see the fruits of our labor with this.”
Rick Baldwin, president of the East Lake Neighborhood Community Association, believes that over time, the program will improve student walkability and safety around Drew Charter.
“Eastlake is a residential neighborhood, so a lot of kids walk to school and dealing with the pedestrian traffic is a big issue,” Baldwin said. “I think that these cameras will have a serious impact on the improvement of safety of the pedestrians and the kids going to walk into school. Once people that do speed get ticketed, and word gets around that people are getting ticketed, then there’s going to be a delayed effect of slowing people down.”
E. Rivers Elementary parent Allison Nelson walks her daughter to school every day and crosses the intersection between Peachtree Battle Ave. and Peachtree Rd., where police said there have been at least 22 crashes since last year. She feels as though the uniqueness of the program will improve pedestrian safety.
“Drivers will pull into the crosswalk [at this intersection] before coming to a complete stop, and we also experience oblivious drivers that honk despite pedestrians in the crosswalk or that are not paying attention,” Nelson said. “[However], the program is more significant than the posted ‘School Zone’ signs and lights because it comes with actual consequences for speeders when APS or APD Officers are not available to patrol and ticket. I feel like people will most likely be more cognizant of their speed knowing they could get a ticket or have received one.”
Greyson Forster, president of Midtown organization Atlanta Students Advocating for Pedestrians (ASAP), agrees with Baldwin and believes the safety program is important to encourage more students to walk or bike to school.
“Safety is a huge deal; in 1969, 48% of children five to 14-year-old walked or biked to school, and then in 2009, that [statistic] fell all the way down to 13%,” Forster said. “That’s a mix of people being further away from school, but also [walking] becoming more dangerous in the light of bigger vehicles. Nowadays, more people drive SUVs with poor visibility and have a higher fatality rate for pedestrians, and they drive faster, so parents may not feel comfortable walking with their kids.”
However, Forster feels as though the stipulation of the program being located only in the school zone limits its scope and impact on students who live outside the school zones.
“Since Georgia House Bill 978 (HB 978) passed in 2018, speed cameras can only be used in school zones, and so it takes a lot of permitting and work with the state to actually get these [projects] done,” Forster said. “So, [the program] is not going to make a massive difference for kids living outside of school zones until Georgia legalizes the speed cameras to be used for enforcement, city-wide and much more.”
Baldwin believes that although the safety program is supplementary to existing safety precautions near Drew Charter, it is still unique in that it contains a penalty, which Baldwin believes is useful.
“Changing people’s behavior only goes so far unless there’s a penalty involved,” Baldwin said. “So, the penalty is going to be a ticket and a fine, and I think it’s going to be effective because there’s a cost to pay; but you don’t change behavior unless there’s a cost to pay.”
Additionally, the partnership between APS, the City of Atlanta and Verra Mobility will come at no cost to the district. The safety cameras will be funded by a percentage of the paid fines collected through the speeding citations, and will possibly fund future safety projects around the district.
“I think the [stipulation] is good; more schools need [this safety program] because most schools are not in some quiet residential area,” Baldwin said. “They’re usually in a high-traffic area and not in little quiet cul-de-sacs. There are drivers out there who are insane, so they need to be reined in, and these programs are needed.”
The City of Atlanta is also working to gain authorization from the State of Georgia to expand the program to additional APS schools, where the remaining phases will then be implemented. Forster believes that the program would be beneficial to Midtown‘s safety.
“Midtown is boxed in by the city’s High Injury Network, which is a small number of streets that account for a vast majority percent of deaths and injuries,” Forster said. “So hopefully, slowing cars down before we can actually implement some of the plans (street changes) that can help accelerate progress.”
Baldwin believes that, through the program, more students will be able to safely and freely walk to or bike to school, which he feels is important for the future of Atlanta.
“[The program] is going to impact students because it’s going to make the area around the schools safer,” Baldwin said. “I think that the people who live close enough to school should be walking or cycling to school anyway; we don’t need more cars. It’s a densely populated city to begin with, inside the city limits. If you make the areas around the school safer, then people will consider non-vehicular transportation more, and that’s what we need as a city for the future.”