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.

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