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Program shines light on safety for pedestrians

LAWRENCEVILLE - Since 1995 the number of pedestrians struck by automobiles in Gwinnett County has increased 100 percent, and one of the main danger zones is Jimmy Carter Boulevard, according to county statistics.

While the 50,000 vehicles that travel the corridor daily make it menacing to walkers and bikers, a lack of pedestrian amenities and a growing immigrant population make it an accident waiting to happen.

In an effort to prevent that, students in a community leadership program are trying to raise awareness about how dangerous the busy roadway is for pedestrians.

They are also trying to educate pedestrians about the proper way to navigate the commercial corridor that is laced with apartment complexes.

Next Saturday, the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute participants and others will hand out English- and Spanish-language fliers near the intersection of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Singleton Road.

The intent is to educate Hispanic immigrants about pedestrian etiquette, including the use of crosswalks and crossing signals, said Laura Hill, a Lawrenceville resident and GNLI student.

Many residents in the area, particularly immigrants, walk or use mass transit because they do not have vehicles, according to information from the county Department of Transportation.

GNLI participants must complete a community project before they graduate, and Hill said the idea for focusing on Jimmy Carter Boulevard originated during a retreat when Hispanic participants told of difficulties facing immigrants who are unfamiliar with local customs and ways.

"I have been here most of my life," Hill said. "I never realized the problems people coming into the country were having.

"There's a lot of cultural things we need to help them out with if we are going to live here together."

Jesse Munoz, a Suwanee resident who is also a GNLI participant, said minorities, especially Hispanics, are more likely to be injured or killed in pedestrian accidents.

"Gwinnett County has one of the fastest growing Hispanic communities in the nation," Munoz said.

"We find that a lot of immigrants come from cities or small towns where crossroads aren't a necessity, so to speak.

"They don't have the luxury of painted crosswalks unless it is a major city, and the bulk of the people moving here are from small towns and mountains and impoverished areas, so they can cross the road where ever they want to."

A Girl Scout troop will be on hand to help pass out fliers, and political leaders and a Spanish-language radio station have become involved in the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. event, Hill said.

Jimmy Carter Boulevard was chosen because, based on county information, it accounts for nearly a quarter of the intersections in Gwinnett that are considered highly hazardous to pedestrians, Hill said.

The county has taken steps to make Jimmy Carter Boulevard safer.

It applied for a federal grant that would be used to add sidewalks and a pedestrian bridge over Jimmy Carter Boulevard at its intersection with Singleton Road and South Norcross-Tucker Road.

Some money has already been set aside for improving Jimmy Carter Boulevard, but not enough to fund a pedestrian overpass, said Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen.

"There are some planning efforts afoot to look at that and whether that is a feasibility there, but right now there is not enough money in the pot, so to speak," Allen said.

Because of the way the intersection is aligned, there is no crosswalk, according to the grant application. About 84,000 vehicles pass through the spot each day, according to the grant paperwork.