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Making Orlando's Streets Safer for Pedestrians

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pedestrians fare better crossing low-speed streets like this one in Thornton Park, Orlando. But high-speed, multi-lane roads are more of a challenge. (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And eight months after the program launched, there are some signs of improvement.

Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering. Orlando is trying all three, but it still has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.

“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. He says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.

Carpenter is monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. A pickup truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park. Carpenter steps cautiously into the road stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.

Bill Carpenter has been monitoring "voluntary yield rates" for drivers at Orlando crosswalks (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“Motorists reactions run the gamut," says Carpenter. "There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”

This dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.

In East Orlando, a restaurant worker  called Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.

“This intersection here, it’s crazy," says Tony. He says drivers aren't courteous. "No. They’d rather run you over.”

Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars.

But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says project manager Brad Kuhn.

“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three.”

That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county, more drivers are yielding now for pedestrians than they were six months ago.

Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88,000 households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But, says Kuhn, high-speed roads are still a problem.

“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them," he says, "which is unfortunate, because on a 40-mile-an-hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”

Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1,200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.

Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglas says some drivers try to blame the pedestrian. “They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”

Transportation for America's map showing pedestrian fatalities around Orlando 2000-2009. (Image from the 2011 report 'Dangerous by Design')

Best Foot Forward is trying out low-cost engineering like signs and road markings-- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.

It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk. When activated, a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons have helped cut the pedestrian accident rate in half over the last ten years.

Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project. “I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than six or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign focusing on ten counties with high pedestrian crash rates.  In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will eventually translate into fewer pedestrians winding up in hospital.

Listen to an audio version of this story here. And follow Matthew Peddie on Twitter here.


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Transportation Nation

210 Million Vehicles Cross Deficient Bridges Daily: Report

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Brooklyn Bridge, currently being repaired after receiving a "poor" rating (photo by Kate Hinds)

In Los Angeles, an average of 396 drivers cross a deficient bridge every second. In New York, that number is 203 drivers per second. And those cities don't even have the highest percentage of worst bridges in the country.

Transportation for America, an advocacy group fighting spending cuts to transportation, says in a new report that more than 18,000 high-traffic bridges are rated "structurally deficient."

In the New York metropolitan area, 17.5 million vehicles cross a deficient bridge every day. In the New Jersey portion of that metro area, 8,593,823 vehicles cross a deficient bridge every day.

This rating doesn't necessarily mean a bridge collapse is imminent. But it does mean that its "load carrying" elements are damaged or deteriorating, and a bridge that receives this rating will require frequent monitoring and significant maintenance to remain in service. Or, in a worse scenario, it will need to be taken out of service -- like Kentucky's Sherman Minton Bridge.

“The poor condition of our bridges is a problem that is not going away,” Andy Herrmann, president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, “Most of the nation’s bridges were designed to last 50 years, and today, roughly a third are already 50 years or older.”

According to the report, Pittsburgh had the highest percentage of deficient bridges (30.4 percent) for a metro area with a population of over 2 million. Oklahoma City (19.8 percent) topped the chart for metro areas between 1-2 million, as did Tulsa (27.5 percent) for metro areas between 500,000-1 million.  You can download the full report here.

“Too many of New Jersey’s bridges are deteriorating and in desperate need of repair,” Senator Frank R. Lautenberg stated in a press release.  “Those in Washington who are undercutting transportation projects must stop, and work together to invest in infrastructure that will create jobs, make our communities safer and improve the economy for all.”

Everyone seems to agree that America's infrastructure is crumbling, but just how to pay for its repair is a politically divisive issue getting a lot of play in Washington these days. The Senate is considering a transportation appropriations bill this week, and the House and the Senate versions are far apart. Meanwhile,  President Obama's American Jobs Act -- which initially set aside $50 billion for infrastructure repair-- is being broken up into pieces by Democrats in an effort to get it to pass.

More about structurally deficient bridges from the Federal Highway Administration (pdf), below:

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Transportation Nation

Houston Seniors Struggle With Poor Access to Transit

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Naomi Hirsh is a 76-year-old woman living in Houston, Texas -- and, according to a report from Transportation for America, she is part of the sixty-eight percent of elderly city residents whom are underserved when it comes to public transit.

Naomi has tried many different ways to navigate car-dependent Houston. Her situation is complicated by ongoing balance issues caused by a serious car accident in 2006, and she can’t leave her apartment without help. She said there are some local organizations that help -- but her home is in the wrong part of town.  “Some of the organizations ... have volunteers in various areas and the first thing they ask you is what is your zip code? Well, my zip code is too far out for any of them to come.”

David Goldberg with Transportation for America said Naomi’s case is not unique -- and he expects to see the problem worsening in the coming years. “What’s happening is that we have the largest generation in the history of the country, the baby boom generation, who also has the longest life expectancy of any previous generation," he said. "And they will have diminished capacity for driving an automobile."

Rafael Ayuso, a spokesman with AARP Texas, said this issue affects hundreds of thousands of Houston residents. “What has happened here is that about four out of every five  seniors aged 65 plus, is car-dependent. So we have a perfect storm brewing here of increasing numbers of baby boomers (with) mobility options (that) are very severely limited.”

For the full story, listen to the radio version at KUHF. You can read more TN coverage about transportation and the elderly here.

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Transportation Nation

In Florida, Walk At Your Own Risk

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

(Orlando, Florida -- Mark Simpson, WAMU) A report by the group Transportation for America says the four deadliest metro regions for pedestrians in the U.S. are all in Florida. Orlando tops out the list, followed by Tampa/ St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Miami/ Fort Lauderdale.

Researchers examined 10 years of fatality data to calculate a “Pedestrian Danger Index.”  The report showed the Orlando area reported 557 pedestrian deaths between 2000 and 2009.  Older Floridians, age 75 and older (4.31 per 100,000 people) and African Americans (3.74 per 100,000 people) made up a large section of pedestrian deaths according to Transportation for America.

The report comes just weeks after Orlando’s northern neighborhood, the City of Winter Park, passed a “Complete Streets” resolution aimed at making its streets more friendly to pedestrians, cyclists, and other street users.

The report’s website provides a map of fatalities in the Orlando region.  Many of the deaths occurred along busy arterial roads that lack sidewalks.  Transportation for America says 67% of similar streets nationwide where pedestrian fatalities occurred over the last decade are eligible for federal funds to improve them.

Many Central Florida cities and towns have state highways that run through them and become the "main street".  Often times traffic is traveling between 45-50 Miles Per Hour, and crosswalks are infrequent.  This causes many pedestrians, including wheelchair bound seniors, to take their chances dodging cars and hoping their timing is right to cross.

A Google News search for "Orlando Pedestrian Killed" reveals dozens of stories from across Central Florida.

Transportation for America last released a report in 2009.  It also ranked the Orlando Metro region highly on its list.

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Transportation Nation

Report: One in Nine Bridges in America "Structurally Deficient, Potentially Dangerous"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Almost 70,000 bridges and overpasses in America are in need of serious maintenance or they could become dangerous according to a report released Wednesday by Transportation for America.

The transportation reform coalition study, The Fix We're in For: The State of the Nation's Bridges, found that "despite billions of dollars in annual federal, state and local funds directed toward the maintenance of existing bridges, 69,223 bridges – representing more than 11 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. – are classified as “structurally deficient,” according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA)."

Structurally deficient bridges require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement and can be subject to speed and weight restrictions, but they are not unsafe. President-Elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Andy Herman, pointed out, "the nation has a very efficient bridge inspection system ... every bridge is inspected every two years." Unsafe bridges are shut down or emergency repairs are immediately ordered.

But the slew of structurally deficient bridges pose a major financial burden on federal and state governments, and will increase in need as time goes on. The study points to the age of America's infrastructure: the average age of an American bridge is 42 years-old. "I think we all know that America's infrastructure is decidedly middle aged," said James Corless, Director of Transportation for America, in a press conference Wednesday. "Most, when they were built, were built for about a lifespan of 50." Many bridges are already older than that. Corless says, that suggests the problem will grow in the years ahead "if we don't address this soon."

The report looked at FHA data on the nation's nearly 600,000 bridges and overpasses. Transportation for America cites FHA statistics estimating $70.9 billion needed to address the backlog of deficient bridges, "far more than what we are currently spending," according to Corless.

Herman added, "right now we're just not spending enough on our bridges. If you look at the current budget that is actually being spent, it's about $10.5 billion per year on our bridges." He cited FHA estimates that call for about $17 billion in annual bridge maintenance spending.

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Transportation Nation

Report: California's Bridges Crumbling -- and San Francisco's Are the Worst

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) A new report by transit advocacy group Transportation for America provides a sobering assessment of the condition of California's bridges: in short, not good.The report finds that one in eight bridges are structurally deficient in some way. In the Bay Area, that number rises to one in five; in San Francisco, it's more than one in three.

County Number of bridges Number of structurally deficient bridges Percentage of bridges that are structurally deficient Average annual daily traffic on structurally deficient bridges
San Francisco 116 40 34.5% 2,569,899
Alameda 601 130 21.6% 5,608,117
San Mateo 344 74 21.5% 3,064,075
Sonoma 601 121 20.1% 737,485
Santa Clara 939 182 19.4% 5,804,761
Contra Costa 560 105 18.8% 3,241,193
Marin 199 31 15.6% 1,117,587
Napa 150 23 15.3% 80,153

A bridge is considered "structurally deficient" when one of three bridge components – deck, superstructure, or substructure – receives a poor grade on a federal scale. The worst bridges receive low grades across the board. Of the 40 San Francisco bridges deemed structurally deficient, city officials oversee only five; four of those are currently slated for repair. Caltrans and other agencies are responsible for the rest.  The bridges that received the lowest rankings were by the Caltrain station at 22nd and 23rd Streets; the most highly-traveled structurally deficient bridge was the 5th St./Hwy 101 bridge.

The report did not assess the state's biggest, most iconic bridges – neither the Bay Bridge nor the Golden Gate bridge were included. Instead, it looked at the thousands of workaday bridges that most motorists hardly think of: the highway on-ramps and overpasses that connect freeways and surface streets. These bridges are, on average, just over 44 years old – slightly older than the national average of 42 years. Most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years.

The report notes that though California's bridges rank in the bottom third nationally, the state has used up all available federal funding to try and address the problem, even going so far as to shift funds designated for other purposes. The state spent $907 million on bridge repair in 2008. The report notes that across the country, repair needs far outstrip available funds: while funding has increased by $650 million over the past several years, the need has increased by $22.8 billion.

Read the full report here.

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