Metro Orlando tops the national list of dangerous cities for pedestrians, according to Transportation for America. On average one pedestrian is killed every week and two are injured every day.
Local civic leaders believe a new initiative can reduce the number of crashes and fatalities. They’ve set an ambitious goal of cutting the pedestrian crash rate by 10 per cent a year over the next five years, which they say can be done through a combination of education, enforcement and road improvements.
Launched last week, Best Foot Forward is a joint initiative of Bike Walk Central Florida, local governments, law enforcement and health groups including the Winter Park Health Foundation and Orlando Health.
Coalition chair, former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin, says pedestrian safety should be a priority in Central Florida.
“It’s about safety, of course, because people are dying. They’re dying every week,” says Chapin.
She says drivers and pedestrians both have to change their behavior to bring down the accident rate. She says residents have to make a choice about the kind of city they want to live in.
“Will it be the kind of friendly community we’ve all visited and recognized, where drivers acknowledge pedestrians with a smile and wave as they slow and then stop for a crosswalk?”
With about 730 pedestrian injuries and 45 deaths a year, Orlando has some way to go.
But Mighk Wilson, MetroPlan Orlando’s Smart Growth Planner, says bringing the rate down by 10 per cent a year can be done.
“It certainly is ambitious, but it is doable. Fatalities are really tough to deal with,” says Wilson Reducing crashes as a whole has to be more of the strategy.”
Wilson says one design fix will be to increase street lighting, although that can be expensive.
Another improvement is retrofitting roads with medians.
“Having a refuge in the middle of a roadway greatly improves safety for pedestrians,” says Wilson.
Ultimately, he says, a lot of the responsibility for preventing crashes falls on drivers.
“What we’ve forgotten as a culture is that there are crosswalks at every intersection, whether they’re marked or not,” he says.
“While it’s true that many crashes involve a pedestrian who’s crossing mid block and doesn’t yield to traffic in the roadway, they could walk fifty feet over to the nearest intersection and cross in an unmarked crosswalk, but no one’s going to recognize that crosswalk.”
So the coalition will also focus on educating pedestrians to use crosswalks, and letting drivers know Florida’s law requires them to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings says drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians can expect to get tickets.
“There will be individuals who initially when we begin will be given warnings, then they’ll be cited,” says Demings.
“The best way we probably can change the behavior of pedestrians and drivers is to ensure that we have appropriate enforcement.”
Bike Walk Central Florida says it will cost about 350 thousand dollars a year to roll out its program across Orange County; it’s applying for a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to help with funding. The money will be used for education programs for pedestrians, drivers and law enforcement officers, and low cost road improvements.
Meanwhile the city of Orlando is also trying to make the environment safer for pedestrians. Currently it’s halfway through a 4 million dollar, federally funded program to add 18 miles of sidewalks to city streets.