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Raquel Nelson Finally Cleared of Homicide Charges, Pleads to Jaywalking

The long legal ordeal is finally over for Raquel Nelson, the mother who faced three years in prison after her four-year-old son was killed by an impaired driver in suburban Atlanta.

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Charges of vehicular homicide against Nelson -- who was crossing the street outside a crosswalk when her son A.J. was struck and killed -- were dropped yesterday in exchange for a guilty plea on jaywalking charges alone. She will pay a $200 fine, according to Transportation for America.

Nelson's case gained national attention as an illustration of poor road design as a civil rights issue. The homicide charge was based on the idea that she was recklessly "jaywalking," but Nelson was simply trying to get from the bus stop to her apartment, and the closest crosswalk was one-third of a mile away.

David Goldberg at Transportation for America says that while Nelson was finally cleared of the unjust charges, many other people around the country face the same kind of conditions that took the life of her son:

That particular ordeal is over for Raquel Nelson. But the underlying crime persists – not just in Cobb County, GA, but also in cities and inner-ring suburbs all over the country. Areas built since the 1950s to be automobile dependent now are home to many lower-income families who don’t have access to cars. Nevertheless, the busy roads around them typically have not been retrofitted with safety measures for people on foot, bicycle or getting to and from the bus. The situation is getting exponentially worse as low-wage workers and recent immigrants move to these areas for their more affordable housing.

Fortunately, Goldberg reports, some progress has come out of this case. Greater Atlanta is starting to change the way it approaches road design:

The good news from Georgia is that this case — and similar tragedies, as the pedestrian fatality rate rises in metro Atlanta — have led the Georgia Department of Transportation to take a serious look at these issues, according to Sally Flocks, the executive director of Atlanta’s PEDS.

“I’ve been really impressed by the extent to which the Georgia DOT now sees the need for safe crossings on busy roads, and mid-block crossings at transit stops,” Flocks said. PEDS is working with GDOT to help identify solutions and ways to evaluate the places to fix. The department now is changing policy to use federal safety money in proportion with the fatality rates, Flocks said.

Hopefully other cities will see the light and prevent similar tragedies.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Human Transit says that cynicism regarding transit problems is tantamount to accepting the current state of affairs. Urban Velo shares a news story explaining how bikes have given immigrant women in the Twin Cities new independence and power. And Bike Portland reports that city is surveying women to promote gender equality in cycling.

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