David Mittiga watched the cars and trucks speeding along Pine Hills Road during an unseasonably cool Wednesday morning (3/15/17) and quipped that what he was about to do was the most dangerous assignment of his 14 years as an Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) deputy:
MIttiga intended to walk from one side of the four-lane road to the other in a crosswalk at El Trio Way, near Evans High School.
About a block south of him was OCSO Cpl. John Ramsey. The two had formed a team to issue $164 tickets and warnings to motorists who do not yield to people walking in crosswalks as part of a safety campaign dubbed Operation Best Foot Forward.
Mittiga walked back and forth for more than an hour, often waiting on a concrete island midway as vehicles whizzed by, most of them well in excess of the posted 40 mph speed limit. The only drivers who consistently stopped were those in school buses.
Ramsey issued tickets to drivers failing to yield — which also can result in the addition of three points to the offender’s driver’s license — and one warning. He could have issued hundreds with additional help and time.
“There just needs to be more care out there,” said Mittiga, who was dressed in a jacket and jeans instead of the normal uniform worn by the department’s motorcycle unit.
Along with Mittiga and Ramsey, the Sheriff’s Office had deputies monitoring four other crosswalks Wednesday: Woodbury Road & Mallory Circle; Dr. Phillips Blvd. & Sandberry Blvd.; Universal Blvd. & Rosen Hospitality College; Landstar Blvd. & Misley Dr.
The need for such work is obvious each time a pedestrian fatality is reported. Just this year, 24 people have been struck and killed on roads in Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Last year at this time,18 were killed.
Metro Orlando consistently has been ranked by Smart Growth America as having the most dangerous roads in the country — a deadly designation that led to the creation of Best Foot Forward (BFF) in 2012.
BFF project director Amanda Day, who was with Mittiga and Ramsey Wednesday, said too many roads in the area are designed to move cars and trucks at high speeds, even through largely residential areas like Pine Hills.
“We need to slow down and motorists need to remember that we are all pedestrians. We’re all people first,” she said.
A program of Bike/Walk Central Florida, the long-term goal of BFF is to reduce pedestrian injuries by half in ten years. Short term, BFF wants to increase driver yield rates by 60 percent on roads posted 35 mph and higher, and a 10 percent increase on driver yield rates year over year on roads posted 40 mph and higher.
Two ways to get through to drivers is periodic enforcement of crosswalks, coupled with spreading the word that the law mandates motorists stop for people in crosswalks.
Ramsey, who has been involved in several crosswalk initiatives, said people who get tickets invariably claim not knowing the law says they must stop. That was the case with three of the first four tickets he wrote Wednesday.
One driver told Ramsey he did not see Mittiga in the crosswalk. Another, according to Ramsey, said, “I saw him (Mittiga). I slowed down so I wouldn’t hit him.”
Ramsey had two suggestions to make life safer for people on foot: Place motorists yielding to walkers on the test drivers must pass to obtain a license; teach elementary students about using crosswalks by painting similar lines on hallway floors and enforcing the rule as if they trying to cross a street.
“It’s cheap,” Ramsey said, “and it would become a memory thing.”
After watching Mittiga dodge traffic Wednesday, it seems we should be open to any reasonable suggestion.