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Black Atlantans Keep Getting Hit By Cars. This City Lawmaker Is Trying to Change That.

‘This legislation is centered around protecting Black people,’ City Council member Jason Dozier tells Capital B Atlanta.

A jogger runs along the Atlanta BeltLine. Thirty-one people — 24 of them Black — were struck and killed by automobiles in Atlanta between 2020 and 2021, according to Propel ATL, a cyclist and pedestrian advocacy organization. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Getting hit by a car is a personal experience that Atlanta City Council member Jason Dozier doesn’t want any of his constituents to endure the way he did years ago.

On Jan. 3, Dozier, who represents District 4, introduced a set of proposed changes to zoning laws around the Atlanta BeltLine.

If the zoning changes become law, they would bar developers from building gas stations and drive-throughs around the BeltLine to help limit traffic congestion in the area, according to Dozier.

That should help reduce the number of pedestrian accidents and fatalities.

Georgia is one of the deadliest states in the nation to travel on foot, and Dozier said Atlanta is partly to blame for that. Pedestrian fatalities in the city skyrocketed 121% from 2020 to 2021. Over that period, 31 people were struck and killed by automobiles, according to Propel ATL, a cyclist and pedestrian advocacy organization.

Twenty-four of those 31 people were Black, the group’s report found.

“Pedestrian safety is a Black issue and that’s something that I’m trying to elevate through this legislation,” Dozier said.

Capital B Atlanta recently interviewed Dozier about his proposal. The following is a transcript of that conversation. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Capital B Atlanta: What’s your overall message to Black residents about these proposed zoning changes and why it matters to them?

Jason Dozier: This legislation is centered around protecting Black people. I want to make sure that Black communities will be able to … feel safe walking their kids to school, or taking their grandkids to the park, or walking to the bus stop. And our Black communities need that support because, where you look at communities that have the highest percentage of residents who don’t own a car, who don’t have access to a car, they are in Black communities, particularly in southwest Atlanta.

But when you look at where there’s the least amount of investment in pedestrian infrastructure — I’m talking about sidewalks, I’m talking about crosswalks and flashing beacons and all these sorts of things — that infrastructure gap is in Black communities in Atlanta, particularly in southwest Atlanta.

And so that’s why Black people should care, is because our communities, that’s where a lot of these incidents, these crashes are occurring because the infrastructure isn’t where it needs to be to support people in need. …

Less than 8% of Atlanta streets account for 88% of fatalities and 52% of severe injuries, and just 10 streets account for one-third of Atlanta’s traffic fatalities. And those 10 streets, almost all of them are in Black communities in Atlanta. … Of those 10 streets, all but two are in Black communities.

Black pedestrians are [more likely] to be victimized in a crash with a car than white pedestrians are. 

What are the full specs on this proposal?

It’s essentially a zoning paper. It provides, in some cases, more regular regulations and limitations as to what developers can do if they acquire a property. You can’t build a new drive-through or gas station, you can still build a fast-food restaurant, you can still build a bank. You just cannot have a drive-through associated with it.

Similarly, for much of the city of Atlanta, the city requires developers to build a certain amount of parking spaces for development, and the market is going to drive that decision. It happens in Midtown, it happens in Downtown.

There’s already no requirements for developers to build parking, yet developers will still choose parking. We just want to remove the city from the equation. We want the city to be less culpable when it comes to how our streets are designed. If a developer wants to build parking, then they can — I just don’t think the city should be responsible for making that decision because of our commitment to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities. …

As we look at where the next frontier of development along the BeltLine is going to be, it’s going to be in Black and low-income parts of our city, particularly in southwest and northwest Atlanta. And we want to make sure that the new development that comes to these communities are centered around protecting pedestrians. 

You got hit by a car. Tell me all about how that happened and how that may have motivated you to push this bill.

I was a bike commuter at the time, [I] was at an event with my wife and riding our bikes on Georgia Avenue, headed home. We live in Mechanicsville and a motorist just wasn’t paying attention. I was in the right lane and she was in the left lane, and she attempted to make a right turn and she turned right into me, and I hit the pavement pretty hard and ended up having to ride in an ambulance to Grady [Memorial Hospital]. It happened as quick as that, and to this day I still have permanent damage in my shoulder because of that incident. I’m thankful to be walking and talking, and talking with you, but that’s what happened. …

That’s just one freak moment that happened for me, but think about how many cars are in and out of Atlanta, how many people are, especially when you go Downtown, and how many close calls there are out there. And one of the things that I noticed as a parent, as someone who pushes his 2-year-old girl in the stroller to go to the store, go to the park, and when we cross by gas stations, when we cross drive-through restaurants, and see the number of close calls we have, we have to be extra vigilant because unfortunately too many motorists aren’t vigilant enough.

What’s the timeline on getting this done?

We’re looking at about three to five months. Zoning papers take a while because it has to go before the Zoning Review Board for review, and … before it goes before the Zoning Review Board, it has to get discussed and debated by the Neighborhood Planning Units. I don’t have any more specific dates, but just from experience, it’s taking about three to five months.

For members of the public, our readers who want to weigh in on this, what’s the best way to do so?

Just follow our Neighborhood Planning Unit and [Zoning Review Board] agendas. Our office is going to do our damnedest to make sure that everyone knows what the timeline is, and we’ll work with our advocacy organizations to help amplify that. The Department of City Planning will determine when this will go before the Zoning Review Board, but we just don’t have that date yet.