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.

UPDATE: Operation BFF: Law Enforcement Target Unsafe Drivers to Protect Children, Seniors

UPDATE: June 28, 2019

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office took their turn helping to make the streets safer by encouraging drivers to yield for pedestrians in marked crosswalks. On Wednesday, June 26, the OCSO participated in Operation Best Foot Forward at three crosswalks: N. Doverplum Ave. and San Remo Rd., Koa St. and Laurel Ave. and Old Dixie Hwy. and Sawdust Trail.

One reason the BFF team chose Old Dixie Highway and Sawdust Trail is because it’s near a neighborhood where kids use the crosswalk to get to a community center. With school out for the summer, more kids are using the crosswalk throughout the day. Before enforcement, we tracked just 12% of drivers were stopping for people in the crosswalk, as Florida law requires. Because of this, and its proximity to the community center, Osceola County recently installed a rectangular rapid flashing beacon. That’s a big sign with a flashing light to warn drivers when there’s a person trying to cross the street.

Doverplum and San Remo, a crosswalk that has been monitored since 2017, had a pre-enforcement yield rate of 35 percent. The Koa and Laurel crosswalk, which lies by a local elementary school, had a pre-enforcement yield rate of 49 percent. Together, these two locations comprised the first two stops of the operation.

Two local news outlets, Positively Osceola and WFTV, came to visit throughout the day. When it was finally time for deputies to pack up, Osceola deputies had issued a total of 24 citations and 10 warnings to drivers who failed to yield to their decoy

Thank you to the deputies at the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office for all of your hard work!

Original Post: June 21, 2019

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’re driving down a road, and you see someone step into a crosswalk up ahead. So you slow to a stop to let that person safely cross. The concept seems simple, yet last week law enforcement partners in Orange and Osceola counties issued more than 100 warnings and citations for drivers failing to do just that.

On June 19th, teams from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, and the Orlando, Kissimmee and St. Cloud Police Departments enforced nine different crosswalks over the course of the day for Operation Best Foot Forward. Their goal: to get more drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, making those crosswalks safer.

During Operation BFF, “decoys”, or plainclothes deputies and officers walk across a marked crosswalk. They check to see which drivers don’t stop, as Florida law requires. Drivers disobeying the law are pulled over by uniformed officers ahead and given at least a $164 reminder, plus three points on their license. This was Best Foot Forward’s second multi-county enforcement operation.

 

This time the BFF coalition chose a crosswalk where elderly residents have complained drivers won’t stop, so they can’t cross the street safely (Rio Grande Ave. & 40th St.). One crosswalk is near one of the top ten crash corridors, according to MetroPlan Orlando (Columbia St. & Kuhl Ave.). A third enforced crosswalk is in the heart of the tourist district and the site of an Orange County road project (Westwood Blvd. near I-Drive). Those are just a few reasons for picking this set of crosswalks.

With the help of local media coverage, BFF was able to reach more than a million Central Floridians to spread our message of safer streets. Drivers need to stop for people in crosswalks, and more people should use crosswalks.

Thanks to all of our partners for spreading the word, and thank you to our brave law enforcement BFFs for hitting the crosswalks yet again. Next up – the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office will be out ticketing drivers who don’t stop at three crosswalks on June 26th.

Watch media coverage of Operation BFF.

Media Alert: June 26th Operation BFF in Osceola County

This summer, officers in Osceola County will be on the streets for an Operation Best Foot Forward crosswalk crackdown. On June 26th, plain-clothed deputies from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office will be citing drivers who fail to yield for people walking in marked crosswalks.

Drivers should always stay alert to people walking, but should expect a $166 citation and a chat with law enforcement if they fail to yield at the following locations during Operation BFF.

Osceola County

Doverplum Ave. & San Remo Rd.

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 35%

(35 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: October 2017

Why we chose this crosswalk: This location has been monitored as part of the BFF program since the Osceola launch in October 2017 but has not been part of an enforcement action due to a weather issue last year. Paired with Koa St. & Laurel Ave., it is the perfect time to remind Poinciana drivers to stay alert to people walking.

Koa St. & Laurel Ave.

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 49%

(49 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: October 2017

Why we chose this crosswalk: Poinciana will be having their first Operation BFF of 2019, so this location is coupled with S. Doverplum Ave. & San Remo Rd. The yield rate at this location still needs a lot of improvement.

Old Dixie Hwy & Sawdust Trail

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 12%

(12 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: March 2019

Why we chose this crosswalk: Schools out, and kids in the neighborhood and at the local daycare center use this crosswalk to get to and from the nearby community center and park. Osceola County recently installed a rectangular rapid flashing beacon at this crosswalk, which should bring more visibility and result in more drivers yielding to people walking.

Click here to see a list of the crosswalks enforced in Orange County, Orlando and Kissimmee on June 19th.

Media Alert: June 19th Operation BFF in Orange County, Orlando, Kissimmee

Kids are out of school for summer vacation, which means they are playing outside, riding their bikes to the park and soaking up the summer sun. It also means that that there are more kids out on the roads, making it more important than ever to be alert while driving.

On June 19th, plain-clothed officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Orlando Police Department, Kissimmee Police Department and St. Cloud Police Department will be citing drivers who fail to yield for people walking in marked crosswalks. On June 26th, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office will wrap things up with one last reminder to yield for PEDS.

Drivers should always stay alert to people walking, but should expect at least a $164 citation and a chat with law enforcement if they fail to yield at the following locations during Operation BFF.

 

Orange County

Rio Grande Ave. & 40th St.

Average Yield Rate: New crosswalk

Tracked since: 2019

Why we chose this crosswalk: Residents on this stretch of Rio Grande have been struggling to safely cross the street. Orange County recently installed this crosswalk and will add rectangular rapid flashing beacon later this year to increase visibility of people walking at this location.

 

Americana Blvd. & Midblock Crossing E. of Texas

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 79%

(79 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: March 2019

Why we chose this crosswalk: Not far from Rio Grande & 40th, this street experiences a lot of the same problems – many people walking and a whole lot of drivers on the road. OCSO deputies are enforcing this location along with Rio Grande, focusing on education for drivers in this area.

 

Westwood Blvd. Midblock near I-Drive

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 19%

(19 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: March 2019

Why we chose this crosswalk: Orange County is currently updating this crosswalk. The road was recently repaved, and the crosswalk repainted. We’ll note whether these changes impact driver behavior at this location.

 

Waterford Lakes Pkwy & Coquina Rock

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 50%

(50 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: January 2012

Why we chose this crosswalk: When data collectors measured yield rates at this crosswalk in 2012, it had a yield rate of just 4%. When they went out earlier this year, it had an average yield rate of 50%. Though its numbers have greatly improved, it is still not where we’d like it to be and OCSO will continue to enforce at this location.

 

Orlando

Columbia St. & Kuhl Ave.

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 41%

(41 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: January 2018

Why we chose this crosswalk: Located in an area with heavy foot traffic, this crosswalk is near one of the top ten corridors in the City of Orlando by number of motorist-caused crashes, according to MetroPlan Orlando. The city installed new signage here in late 2018 and we look forward to seeing how they impact driver behavior at this crosswalk.

 

Mercy Dr. & Kalwit Ln.

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 60%

(60 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: 2013/2019

Why we chose this crosswalk: When BFF began tracking this crosswalk back in 2013, its yield rate was only 12%. Recently, however, Orlando has made several engineering changes to this crosswalk, including moving it down the street and adding a rectangular rapid flashing beacon. So, while our originally monitored crosswalk is no more, the changes made should better serve people walking in the area and provide a safer place for them to cross.

Kissimmee & St. Cloud

311 W. Oak St.

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 10%

(10 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: March 2019

Why we chose this crosswalk: Heavy foot traffic combined with a lot of cars can be a rough combo, and that is what you will find at this location. Drivers rarely stopped at this location during Operation BFF in April, making it a dangerous spot for people walking and a high-priority for KPD.

Dyer Blvd. & Kennsington Rd.

Average Yield Rate (April 2019): 22%

(22 out of 100 drivers yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk)

Tracked since: October 2017

Why we chose this crosswalk: Though we’ve been monitoring this crosswalk since 2018, it will be KPD’s first time enforcing it due to heavy construction here last year.

Click here to see the list of crosswalks being enforced by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office on June 26th.

Osceola, Kissimmee, St. Cloud Ticket Drivers Who Don’t Stop for Peds

New year, new crosswalks, same dangerous driving habits. Earlier this month local law enforcement experienced first-hand why Central Florida is the most dangerous area in the country when it comes to pedestrians. Over two days, during Operation Best Foot Forward, Osceola Deputies and Kissimmee and St. Cloud police officers issued 81 citations and 19 warnings to drivers who failed to yield for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Fast Facts: Operation BFF April 17-18

    • 81 citations, 19 warnings
  • 3 law enforcement agencies
  • 5 crosswalks
  • 2 Commissioners came out to observe

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During Operation BFF, teams of law enforcement set up around a specific crosswalk. A plainclothes officer or deputy walks across the street, making sure to give drivers plenty of time to stop. If they don’t, uniformed officers and deputies pull them over and give them a $166 citation and three points on their license. This is also known as a high-visibility enforcement.

What’s the goal, you ask? To get more drivers to stop and allow pedestrians to walk safely through marked crosswalks. We were joined at the crosswalks by Commissioner Viviana Janer and Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, both from Osceola County. The commissioners expressed their support of Operation BFF and thanked law enforcement for their hard work.

Despite the fact that law enforcement posted signs warning of the crosswalk crackdown, BFF watched as drivers continuously blew through crosswalks, putting the pedestrian “decoy” in danger. At one time, we counted at least 10 drivers break Florida’s Driver Yield law!

Every year, the Best Foot Forward steering committee for each county chooses a list of crosswalks to focus on. The steering committees are made up of city and county planners, engineers, law enforcement, representatives from local school districts and more. The committees choose crosswalks based on several factors including: recent crash data, whether it’s near a school or playground, if there have been any changes to the crosswalk they want to track, etc. From that larger list, they choose a couple for each enforcement operation.

This time, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office enforced three crosswalks on April 17, and the Kissimmee and St. Cloud Police Departments enforced two on April 18. Here is a better explanation of why each crosswalk was chosen.

In addition to an enforcement operation that is visible to local residents, we want to spread the word across the area in hopes of educating more people. One way we do that is by launching a social media blitz. Between April 16-19, we reached an estimated 40-thousand people on social media—showing them the importance of yielding for people in crosswalks.