Georgia's safest city for pedestrians might be its busiest, according to a Washington, D.C., group's analysis of national highway fatality statistics.
Athens, home to the University of Georgia campus and its thousands of students had the lowest number of pedestrian fatalities of any of the state's metropolitan areas, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a group that promotes alternative modes of transportation, including walking. Athens had one pedestrian fatality in 2000, one in 2001.
The two-year total of two deaths was lower than any other city in Georgia, even figured on a per-capita basis.
According to the group, Athens' Pedestrian Danger Index was just 6.3, compared to 58.8 for Macon, the worst score in the state.
The worst in the United States was Orlando, at 79.3. The index is a ratio of the number of pedestrian deaths to the number of people in a community who say they walk to work.
Local officials said Athens' low numbers are a payoff for recent pedestrian-safety improvements by the Athens-Clarke County government and the University of Georgia.
"I think this is positive. I think it shows that some of the work we've done over the last couple of years is beginning to bear fruit," said David Clark, the head of the Athens-Clarke County Department of Transportation and Public Works.
According to the study, Athens spent $1.98 per person on bicycle and pedestrian safety in the two years, more than any other city in the state.
Much of that spending came in the wake of a series of pedestrian deaths on and near the UGA campus in the early 1990s.
One year, three pedestrians were killed on Lumpkin Street, recalled Maj. Jimmy Williamson of the UGA Police Department.
In 1996, a UGA student was killed by an Athens Transit System bus on Baldwin Street. After filing a lawsuit against Athens-Clarke County, the student's family agreed to a $900,000 settlement.
Since then, UGA and Athens-Clarke have added two flashing-light pedestrian crosswalks on Lumpkin, another one in front of the Classic Center, downtown's convention and performance space, and two more near the Ramsey Student Center at a cost of more than $20,000 each.
Traffic signals also have been changed at some intersections with heavy pedestrian use, such as Broad Street at the Arch and Baldwin Street at Sanford Drive, Mr. Clark said.
In addition, fences have been erected and sidewalks moved away from Lumpkin Street, Baxter Street and Baldwin Street near heavily-used pedestrian areas on the school's campus.
"I think it's one of those times of true success," Chief Williamson said. "The good thing about this is that it shows a cooperative spirit (between UGA and Athens-Clarke government) in trying to improve pedestrian movement."