After Sutton Middle School relocated to the former North Atlanta High School campus in August, neighbors noticed more young students — without a driver’s license but old enough to walk home alone from school — walking each day along Northside Drive to get to and from the campus.
But some are concerned the treacherous intersection just a few hundred yards away is putting these children at risk.
The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to renovate the intersection at Northside, Arden Road and Castlewood Drive in 2014, but one parent said waiting that long poses a huge risk for all pedestrians.
Travis Ward, a parent of a seventh-grader at Sutton, has already secured almost 180 signatures on an online petition urging GDOT and the city of Atlanta to make the intersection safer sooner rather than later.
“We’ve heard so many accidents happen out here,” Ward, who lives about a block away, said of the intersection. “It’s crazy. It’s just a regular thing to hear the smashing of cars.”
As Ward walked to pick up her daughter from school Monday, she pointed to the north end of the five-way intersection where there is no sidewalk to access a MARTA bus stop. She then clutched her youngest daughter’s hand to cross the only striped pedestrian crosswalk, saying the electronic crossing signal is not calibrated with the traffic light.
“A lot of times what happens is kids get here, they wait and wait, and then they dart across,” Ward said. “Or they will sit on the ground and wait. There is no sidewalk for them to wait on and keep them away from all the cars.”
She and her neighbors that live too close to the school are not allowed to have their children ride Atlanta Public Schools buses. She could drive to pick up her daughter each day, but a line of cars turning into Sutton’s back parking lot made it apparent that option would be even more time-consuming.
“I’ve seen parents out here serving as crossing guards on most days,” she said. “It’s not safe and it needs to be fixed.”
Josh Goldfarb, president of the Castlewood Neighborhood Association, said when the school was North Atlanta, older students were more apt to drive or take the bus and were able to make smarter decisions as pedestrians.
“It’s such a material change affecting the pedestrian flow of traffic and now that intersection doesn’t work anymore,” he said.
Kathy Zahul, a GDOT traffic engineer, said she has reviewed Ward’s petition and many of the suggested improvements are included as part of the Northside Drive/U.S. 41 safety improvement project, which she recognized has been much delayed since discussions began in 2004.
The intersection improvements include new crosswalks, traffic signals, and Americans with Disabilities Association Act-compliant wheelchair ramps, Zahul said. The entire Northside project involves removing the reversible lane, relocating utilities and revamping the sewer system.
Fluffie Tambke, another Castlewood resident, said a friend of hers was in an accident at the intersection eight years ago. Though she went down to the capitol and lobbied for improvements, nothing has changed.
“Arden and Northside have been totally neglected,” she said. “A year from now? That’s just not okay.”
In an email Monday, Sutton principal Audrey Sofianos said she is supportive of sidewalks and "anything that will help boost safety in the community and for all children.”
Ward said she is in continual talks with Zahul and other officials to increase the scope of the project to add sidewalks north of Arden, so she can finally walk her daughter to and from school rather than park in front of a nearby house. Plans do not include the sidewalk because of federal requirements, easements and a potential need for right-of-way acquisition that would delay the current project, Zahul wrote in an email Friday.