MACON, Ga. — Most of Macon’s deadliest roads need state action to make them safer.
But locally, the Pedestrian Safety Review Board has specific duties to review each pedestrian fatality, identify its cause and make recommendations for how to make the area safe for foot traffic, according to the Macon-Bibb County ordinance that created it in 2015.
However, the board has not been reviewing fatalities and has not compiled records of recent pedestrian deaths. At its May meeting, a board member said she was aware of one pedestrian fatality since the April meeting. However, there had been three since the that meeting and a total of six so far this year.
Beyond its designated duties, the board also receives annual grants from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health with the aim of improving pedestrian safety. In the most recent GOHS assessment of the spending, PSRB was categorized as a “high risk” grantee based on its performance in carrying out objectives of current and past grant awards.
Records obtained by The Macon Newsroom through the Georgia Open Records Act indicate GOHS has increased monitoring and auditing of PSRB because of those findings. GOSA conducts a “risk assessment” for each grantee before the money is awarded to determine how closely it will need to monitor grantees based on past performance and compliance with federal guidelines.
The 2022 risk assessment for PSRB, completed May 2021, noted, “Macon-Bibb has struggled with communication during the grant year and consistency in programming” and the board “is not meeting programmatic milestones.” The assessment noted the board failed to meet milestones in 2020 and was not on track to meet them in 2021. It also noted PSRB had not corrected unresolved audit issues and was late submitting financial reports to the state.
Robert Hydrick, spokesman for GOHS, said the assessment takes into consideration the activities of grantees, how money is spent, plans for future spending and the success or failure of past projects.
Chris Floore, spokesman for Macon-Bibb County, said the “high risk” designation is, in part, due to the pandemic because in-person meetings were not taking place. Before the pandemic, Floore said, there were instances in which monthly reports required by the state were not submitted due to leadership changes on the board.
Floore said this information was shared with the state.
“The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety understood but still had to check that box,” Floore said of the “high risk” designation.
Financial records for PSRB found the board applied for and has been awarded $110,355 in U.S. Department of Transportation grants since 2018.
The board has spent just over $65,000 with the lion’s share going toward of plastic light-up bands for pedestrians and cyclists. All told, the board has purchased 13,557 of the battery-powered silicone bands at a cost of about $5 each.
Board members often are asked at meetings to take bands and distribute them to people at public events such as the Cherry Blossom Festival. Even so, boxes of the bands remain inside a small closet in city hall along with other promotional items. At the May meeting, the board discussed ordering more bands, which come in a variety of colors and are most commonly worn around the ankle by cyclists to increase visibility.
The board also buys promotional items such as pens, T-shirts and hats, which are prohibited from being purchased with U.S. DOT grants.
For those items, PSRB uses money it is awarded by the board of health. County Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who spearheaded the creation of PSRB, and David Gowan, safety and risk management director for Bibb Schools, both serve on PSRB and the board of health.
The following items are among recent purchases by PSRB paid for with health department grant money:
- 1,500 glow-in-the-dark shoe laces and a table cover for $1,268.
- 86 fluorescent green and yellow collared shirts, two each for board members, for a total of $1,997.
- 20 lime green cotton hats with the PSRB logo for board members at a total of $415.
- A canopy tent with the PSRB logo for $1,033
- 167 heat press t-shirts for $12 each for a total of $2,000.
PSRB also uses health department grant money to pay Bob Dallas, a lawyer from Dunwoody who was appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue as director of GOHS 2003-11. Dallas was hired by the county in 2019 to be its Vision Zero consultant and he was paid $80 per hour to help the county adopt a Vision Zero Action Plan.
Dallas charged between $400-$800 for each meeting he attended and was paid by the minute for participating in phone calls with staff from KLS Engineering, a Virginia-based federal highway consultant group, to create the Vision Zero Action Plan adopted by the county in late 2020.
Vision Zero is a strategy from the Institute of Transportation Engineers to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on roads here by 2040.
The plan identifies measures the county can take in the short, medium and long term. It also estimates whether the measures will come at a high, low or medium cost.
One of the medium cost short-term goals was to hire a full-time traffic safety manager to act as a liaison between the county and the Georgia Department of Transportation. However, a source of funding or finalized job description have not been completed.
Dallas called into the May 17 board meeting via video conference. From the driver’s seat of a parked car, Dallas told the board via videostream it is taking him longer than he anticipated to get in touch with GDOT to draft an agreement to create the job.
Though PSRB has not reviewed fatalities, it has pushed for road improvements including crosswalks, lighting and addressing speeding. The document below was provided to The Macon Newsroom by PSRB Chairman Greg Brown, who is also assistant planning director for Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning.
An update on the county’s progress with implementing the short-term goals detailed in the plan is expected at the PSRB meeting in June.