Media Alert: Operation BFF in Orlando and Orange County on 9/18/19

Law enforcement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department will be hitting the streets this week to enforce six crosswalks. Deputies and officers will be looking for drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks, as Florida law requires. Drivers who fail to yield could get a $164 citation and three points on their license. More information is in the media release below.

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Fast Facts about Pedestrian Safety in Metro Orlando.

Read what it’s like to be part of Best Foot Forward during a high-visibility enforcement.

See pictures from previous Operation BFFs.

 

No Wheels Necessary: Starting Your Own Walking School Bus

Walking to school on a warm fall morning is a rite of passage for many Florida kids. But sometimes, those kids have to cross a busy street, or maybe the walk is a mile or more. It can be tough for parents to feel good about letting their children walk to school under those circumstances. If only there was a way they could be in a group with other students and supervision…. Enter the Walking School Bus.

What is a Walking School Bus?

A Walking School Bus (WSB) is a safe, active and fun way for kids to get to school. Like a traditional school bus, the WSB has a route and children meet at designated pickup points. Instead of being picked up by a bus, students are picked up by adult leaders who walk them to and from school as a group.

Why start a Walking School Bus?

A Walking School Bus is a great solution for students that live close enough to walk to school, but far enough that walking alone might present safety concerns. WSB’s also teach students about active transportation and pedestrian safety. Students who walk to school have been found to have a higher academic performance and lower stress levels throughout the day.

 

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How can I start a Walking School Bus in my neighborhood?

Starting a walking school bus is easy! Anyone can do it. We broke it down for you into five steps:

  1. Recruit your team

The first thing you need to do is assemble a team. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership recommends recruiting school staff members, a PTO/PTA representative and a student representative. Other possible team members include law enforcement officials, neighborhood watch and a neighborhood association representative.

  1. Answer some questions

No two neighborhoods are the same, and your WSB should be tailored to the needs of your neighborhood and school. Answering these questions with your team can help you tailor your WSB to the needs of your neighborhood.

    • How formal or informal is the structure of your WSB?
    • Does it require student registration?
    • When will it start and end?
    • How many days a week will it operate?
    • Will it operate in the morning, afternoon or both?
    • How many routes will you need?
    • How can you accommodate children with physical and mental disabilities?
    • What is the plan for inclement weather?
  1. Create routes

Once you and your team have answered those questions, you can begin drawing up the routes. You may need to guess where students live based on information given to you by the school. This will help you determine an accessible route and where stops should be placed. Once you have a route in mind, test its walkability. This checklist from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center is a great resource for assessing your WSB route. Once you’ve decided on a route, we recommend timing the route before and after school.

  1. Recruit students and leaders

After you’ve mapped your routes, it’s time to recruit your leaders and participants. Working with your school will be the most effective way to recruit student participants and adult leaders. Promote the WSB in school announcements and at school events, as well as PTA/PTO meetings. You may also want to promote in any neighborhood publications such as HOA newsletters or the Nextdoor app. The number of adult leaders you need will depend on how many student participants you have. Check with your school for the recommended parent-to-child ratio on field trips to calculate how many adult leaders you’ll need.

  1. Getting Started

You’ve got the routes, the rules and the people – it’s time to get the WSB up and running. Walk to School Day 2019 (October 2) is the perfect day to launch and promote your WSB. Work with your school to coordinate an event and promote it through school publications. Continue to recruit students and leaders through flyers and social media posts and keep an informational flyer or brochure about your WSB on hand for interested potential participants, and refer to the Step by Step Guide from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership for more information about running a WSB.

A Walking School Bus is a perfect way to get kids active, teach them about pedestrian safety, and minimize time spent in a bumper-to-bumper school pick-up line.

FDOT Honors BFF, BWCF with First-Ever Award of Its Kind

“It takes special people and organizations to dedicate the time and energy to go above and beyond in any area. We especially appreciate that your time and energy is dedicated to saving the lives of people who walk and bike in Florida.”

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Those were just a few words spoken about Bike/Walk Central Florida, as the organization was honored by the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) District 5 this summer. For the first time in its history, FDOT District 5 took time at its quarterly meeting to applaud and celebrate outstanding partners in pedestrian and bicycle safety.

BWCF was recognized for its administration of the Best Foot Forward program. Executive Director Amanda Day and several BWCF Board members were on hand to receive the award on July 31, in Orlando. Day thanked FDOT and all the partners of the BFF program, including Orange and Osceola Counties, the cities of Orlando, Kissimmee and St. Cloud, the Orange and Osceola County Sheriff’s Offices, the Orlando, Kissimmee and St. Cloud Police Departments, MetroPlan Orlando, Orange and Osceola County Public Schools, LYNX, Orlando Health, the Florida Health Department, the University of Miami’s WalkSafe Program and the Winter Park Health Foundation.

“I am so honored to receive this award on behalf of all those who’s hard work makes this program a success,” Day said. “Together we can make a difference and make the streets of Central Florida a safer place for all road users: pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike.”

Best Foot Forward was specifically honored for its work in Evaluation of Performance Metrics. BFF uses the “Triple-E” behavioral change process which consists of the persistent application of low-cost engineering, community education and high-visibility enforcement to get more drivers to yield for pedestrians in marked crosswalks, as Florida law requires.

Through extensive data collection before, during and after the program, BFF has a proven track record of getting more drivers to yield for pedestrians in its monitored crosswalks. Before BFF launched in 2012, about 1 percent of drivers yielded to pedestrians in crosswalks on roads with speeds of 40 mph or higher. At the end of 2018, the driver yield rate was 43 percent in those same crosswalks. On roads with speeds of 35 mph or less, the change went from 17 percent of drivers yielding, to 58 percent.

The ultimate measure of success, however, will be the reduction of pedestrian deaths and injuries.

BWCF and Best Foot Forward are excited to continue this important work, and the team looks forward to expanding into Seminole County this Fall.

Pedestrian Technology: Credible or Questionable?

Engineers are hard at work every day, innovating new ways to make roads safer for walkers. From 3D crosswalks to zombie crosswalk lights, there have been countless attempts to protect all road users. But, not all of these imaginative solutions are created equal.

So, we’re reviewing a few technological ideas– to find out which ones we think are credible and which ones are questionable.


3D crosswalks – QUESTIONABLE

Photo credit: Gústi Productions

No, they’re not actually 3D – your car will be just fine. These are crosswalks that are painted to look like they’re sticking up out of the ground. Meant to gain the attention of drivers and encourage them to stop, this feature would be cheap to install. Other types of unique crosswalk paint – like this one painted like a keyboard – could also have the same effect. Unfortunately, testing by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found they could be potentially dangerous. The study explains that a “significant percentage of drivers” actually swerved or drove erratically when they saw the crosswalks.


Leading pedestrian interval systems (LPIs) – CREDIBLE

These innovative systems have proven to be effective and cost-efficient when cities have the capability to install them into pre-existing traffic communications networks. LPIs ensure pedestrians always have the right of way by issuing the “walk” signal at a crosswalk three to seven seconds before the light for drivers turns green. This way, walkers are already well into the crosswalk – and far more visible than on the sidewalk – by the time drivers make a right or left turn. The National Association of City Transportation Officials has estimated that LPIs can reduce pedestrian crash rates by up to 60%. We’re on board!


 Augmented reality in Google Maps – QUESTIONABLE

 
Here’s new technology that could help walkers find their way around more easily – or could make them more distracted than ever. Google began piloting AR in its Maps app in May. With this new feature, app users can hold the camera of their phone up to their surroundings, and Google will display directions in the form of giant arrows and street names on the real roads. This could be incredibly helpful for city walkers with phones that struggle to find their GPS location, but will also give them another reason to look down at their phone instead of where they’re going. So, we’re labeling this one as questionable for now, but are excited to see how the app develops.


Rectangular rapid-flashing beacons (RRFBs) – CREDIBLE

You’ve probably seen them in your neighborhood: pedestrian crossing signs with a button on the side that will turn on flashing lights when you’re ready to cross. This crosswalk safety technology has proven to be effective time and time again – but comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Though, if cities are willing to install them, they are worth every penny in pedestrian lives saved. RRFBs can reduce pedestrian crashes by up to 47 percent, according to the Transportation Research Board.


Zombie crosswalk lights – QUESTIONABLE

Don’t worry – there are no actual zombies involved in this crosswalk technology. Named for so called “zombie pedestrians” who don’t look up from their phone when they walk, these LED strips on the sidewalk display the color of the upcoming stoplight. This way, pedestrians don’t have to look up from their phone in order to know when it’s safe to cross the road. Could this be a good idea? Sure. Is there any actual proof that they work? Not yet. Zombie crosswalk lights haven’t made their way to the U.S., but they have been used by governments in other countries to cope with distracted walkers.


Road Diets – CREDIBLE

Denning Dr., Winter Park. Photo credit: Orange Observer.

The road diet – no, it’s not when you cut back on the Doritos on your trip from Orlando to visit your cousin in Miami. Road diets are used by city planners and involve taking large, multi-lane roads and shrinking them down to one or two lanes. City planners often use the extra space created by eliminating lanes to install protected bike lanes, cycle tracks, multi-use sidewalk paths and additional landscaping. Cutting down on road size can actually ease traffic congestion, even though it seems counter-productive. What happens is that some drivers will adjust to use other nearby roads, thus decreasing traffic to the now-2-lane road. Distributing cars among several, smaller roads, not only saves drivers time, but slows their speed down enough to make streets safer for walkers and bikers. It’s a win-win!


Pedestrian Crash Avoidance Systems – QUESTIONABLE

The name’s pretty self-explanatory, but the technology behind it is far more complex. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it’s an extension of front crash prevention: it can detect and brake when it senses a pedestrian, or it prompts the driver to brake in advance. The organization has been researching the technology and tracking its effectiveness in 11 models of cars so far. While some have garnered superior and advanced ratings, others have failed to pass the test, which is why we’ve deemed this method “questionable” for right now. However, we have high hopes for these crash avoidance systems in the years to come.


Pedestrian Bridges – CREDIBLE

Photo credit: MetroPlan Orlando

What’s a better way to keep pedestrians safe than removing the need to cross the road entirely? Pedestrian bridges do that – they allow walkers to cross above the road, where not even the most distracted driver could hurt them. The Colonial ped bridge, seen above, elevates bikers and walkers to cross over railroad tracks and a dangerous intersection. The downside? Pedestrian bridges cost millions of dollars and take years to engineer and build. It’s not a quick and easy solution, but it definitely saves lives.

Operation BFF: Through the Eyes of Interns

Crosswalk Crackdowns, or “Operation BFF” are one of the most important parts of the Best Foot Forward Program. Along with Education, Engineering and Evaluation, BFF uses Enforcement to further its mission of changing driver behavior. The goal: get more drivers to yield or stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks, thus encouraging more people to use crosswalks.

During one of these high-visibility enforcements (Operation BFF), local police and deputies set up at a specific crosswalk, previously chosen by a BFF (read how crosswalks are chosen). A plainclothes officer or “decoy” walks across the crosswalk, noting which drivers don’t yield, as Florida law requires. Drivers who break the law are flagged down by uniform officers and given a warning or a $164+ citation and three points on their license.  

Our two summer interns experienced their first Operation BFF this June. Here’s their take on it:

Nicole:

This was my first Operation Best Foot Forward, and it was both everything and nothing I expected. I read the statistics, I learned the law, but I hadn’t seen the dangers Central Florida pedestrians face every day in such a real way.

I’m new to Orlando and don’t know the area – or the drivers – very well. When I first moved here, I was surprised by the drastically different dynamic on the roads. Compared to those in Sarasota, where I’m from, Orlando drivers seemingly speed like crazy and have a very palpable death wish.

The first crosswalk I went to during Operation BFF, near Mercy Dr. & Kalwit Ln., seemed to be in a quiet neighborhood. On first glance, I was confused why a crosswalk on a small road in a residential area would need to be enforced. The crosswalk here even had an RRFB (flashing beacons that turn on when a person wanted to cross the street).

But, once Orlando Police arrived and the decoy officer started trying to cross, I realized how wrong I was. Cars sped through the crosswalk, going at least 10 mph over the 25-mph speed limit. While some drivers saw the flashing lights and yielded, others seemed completely unphased, barreling past the decoy who was already well into the crosswalk.

Just when I thought I’d seen the worst, we arrived at the second crosswalk of the day at Rio Grande Ave. & 40th St.—a much larger road with a center turning lane. Drivers here were even more oblivious to pedestrians. As I sat on a bus stop bench near the crosswalk, taking pictures of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office decoy, I feared for his life on more than one occasion. It seemed like the majority of drivers were more concerned with getting where they needed to go than the life of a pedestrian.

At my last crosswalk of the day, 311 W. Oak St. in Kissimmee, it was more of the same: inattentive drivers who didn’t stop for pedestrians. The crosswalk is set pretty close to the start of a left turning lane, and most drivers were far more concerned about merging over than looking for walkers.

Overall, the experience made me realize just how important crosswalk safety is, and how large an impact this operation actually makes. The statistics came to life – drivers really don’t yield to pedestrians, even though it would only add an extra 30 seconds to their commute.

This enforcement gave meaning to the work I’ve been able to do for BFF over the past few months. I realized that I have had the opportunity to be a part of something that’s really making a difference — and saving lives. The importance of safe driving, walking and yielding to pedestrians is something that will follow me throughout my entire life.

Brittney:

In my first two months working with Best Foot Forward, I heard all about Operation BFF. I wrote about it. I tweeted about it. I read about it. Heck, I even drove out to all of the crosswalks and took pictures of them to use for reference materials. But, despite all this indirect contact, I still had yet to witness an actual high-visibility enforcement – that is, until June 26.

We had three crosswalks scheduled across the span of that morning in Osceola County.

The day was hot and sticky – the epitome of a summer morning in good ol’ Florida. Shade was often nowhere to be found. The deputy decoy had ditched his uniform for plainclothes and was stationed at the crosswalk, walking back and forth across the street.

The area had a reputation for drivers who don’t stop—and it was spot on. Within minutes, deputies pulled over several drivers. The decoy, Doug, told us he was almost “smoked” by the driver of a large van whizzing by. “I could feel the wind against my face,” he said.

I began to take pictures and videos with my phone (my assignment for the day), and at times, I was a little scared of what I might capture. Not only was our decoy on the edge of danger, but so were other pedestrians. A woman pushing a stroller waited for what seemed like an eternity on the side of the road until finally, finally a driver let her cross. I didn’t even want to cross that road, let alone with a child.

I was delighted to find that we saw greater yield rates third and final location because of the newly installed rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRBF), a flashing light that blinks to alert drivers when a pedestrian is ready to cross the road.

And then, just like that, my first Operation BFF was over. I gathered the officers for the obligatory group photo, and we said our goodbyes.

Even though the day was over, the mission behind the operation will stick with me. As a frequent pedestrian at my university, the University of Florida, I know the dangers of crossing streets all too well. And now as an observer, I see that this is also a statewide problem. Operation BFF’s noble purpose – to bring safety to our crosswalks – strikes a chord with me.

As a driver, I will be more aware of the pedestrians in the lanes in front of me. As a pedestrian, I will practice safety when I cross. And as a member of this community, I will continue supporting organizations like Best Foot Forward, that prioritize safety throughout the state.