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Atlanta Consitution, March 13 2003

by Robert J. Nebel

Biking along Medlock Bridge Road in Gwinnett County is like being a suburban archaeologist. Pieces of car emblems, taillights, headlights, bumpers and hubcaps that once adorned beautifully powerful vehicles with names such as Mercury, Explorer, Corolla and Yukon are ruins scattered on the side of the road.

Automobiles that once stood proudly in a car showroom, enclosed garage or carport have become a telltale sign of what has happened in the land of soccer moms, SUVs and minivans that sport bumper stickers that read "Children Need Both Parents."

Scenes of accidents are as common as the local grocery stores, movie theaters and restaurants that line this massive corridor, which straddles the Gwinnett-Fulton county line. Makeshift memorials dot the landscape along with the pine trees, golf courses and the entrances to the gated communities of half-million-dollar homes. Medlock Bridge tells the story of dreams senselessly shattered, lives senselessly lost.

It takes a bike to study this terrain. One cannot see the evidence from the confines of an automobile.

Last Sunday, a friend of mine and I went on another "Medlock Journey" after learning of another tragedy that took place. Scraps from a March 7 accident were left near a corner of the highway and the brick entrance to an elegant subdivision. A 16-year-old girl was allegedly drag racing illegally on nearby Peachtree Parkway with her family's BMW during Friday afternoon rush hour. She crossed the median and crashed head-on into a car, killing her passenger and the occupant of the other vehicle.

The families and community were in shock. The media reported. The local radio taskmasters howled. Everyone engaged in the game of "Monday morning quarterback" upon learning of this latest outrage.

In this case, as in similar previous cases, the community raised its collective fist in anger over issues such as lack of parental responsibility, the young driver's age and the family's socioeconomic status. The accused is injured while the community assassinates the character of her and her family. It is a flow chart that is too often repeated in metropolitan Atlanta.

In the heat of the moment, we offer ersatz solutions, ranging from raising the driving age to stepping up law enforcement in the area, all in the name of preventing the next tragedy, knowing all too well that the suggestions are in vain. It is a human response to surrender common sense.

This story is horrifying indeed. The actions of this girl are unconscionable. She has destroyed many lives. The law ought to punish her for this unforgivable crime. In a system that unfairly sends petty drug criminals and minorities to prison, it is ever more likely that this young girl will escape harsh punishment. Like Hollywood celebrities, she will have access to a highly qualified legal team.

The real outrage in this case is how the New South is designed. Throughout the Southeast, there are hundreds of Medlock Bridges. Medlock Bridge is a superhighway in the suburbs, which residents must use for every activity in their lives, whether to travel to work or to buy milk and bread.

This road is not designed like a neighborhood main road with the corner store and sidewalks. It is designed like a death trap similar to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, I-285, Buford Highway and Cobb Parkway. These monstrosities are built with only cars in mind. Human beings were not part of the equation.

If we truly would like to reduce the amount of carnage on our roads, let's start with more traffic lights and lower speed limits, and include more sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes to get more of us out of our cars. It is not the ultimate solution, but merely a start.

Raising the driving age will only penalize the many responsible 16-year-olds who attend school and work at part-time jobs. Improved driver education and parental involvement would make these teenagers safer drivers. Because there are no alternative modes of transportation for these kids, they have little choice.

While I appreciate the Gwinnett and north Fulton fathers designating bike lanes along Peachtree Parkway and Medlock Bridge Road, I mourn for the lack of riders on these paths. I mourn that there are no sidewalks for pedestrians along any of these corridors. The daring few take their lives into their hands as they dart across Buford Highway to get food, to their jobs, or to a MARTA stop. I mourn for the victims and perpetrator of the latest Medlock Bridge Road tragedy.

As this community will be distracted with more pressing matters such as "Joe Millionaire" and Bill O'Reilly's latest rant, we will move on. There will be more tragedies like March 7.
(c)2003, Cox Communications