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UCF students examine how socioeconomics and built environment affect pedestrian safety

Are differing socioeconomic conditions in neighborhoods correlated to the number of pedestrian crashes? Do aspects of the built environment in some areas contribute to the frequency of drivers striking people walking?

A group of University of Central Florida students asked these questions about the communities of Pine Hills and Baldwin Park. For a research paper, they dug into the reasons behind numerical disparities they saw. Peeking into the past, they highlighted differences in timeline and development for the two neighborhoods and drew conclusions. Disadvantaged communities often see a greater level of danger for people walking, with socioeconomic differences influencing the population that interacts with differences of built environment.

The students examined census data, geographic databases, and data showing the number of drivers who yielded and stopped for people in crosswalks. They pieced together a picture of factors that increase or decrease pedestrian safety, from lighting to speed limits to sign maintenance.

Not all neighborhoods are created equal, nor are the crosswalks located within them. The UCF students – one of whom, Randy Schrader, contributes to Best Foot Forward through community outreach – took this to heart. They considered and presented ideas on how planners, engineers, and policy-makers might create a more equitable, appealing and safer community for all road users.

You can read their study below or download the pdf here:

Abstract

Central Florida leads the nation in the number of pedestrian deaths on its roadways, taking the top spot as the most dangerous metropolitan area for pedestrians in the overall worst state for walkers (Dangerous by Design, 2019). However, some Central Florida communities experience much higher rates of pedestrian crashes than others. Two factors that contribute to this disparity include the socioeconomic status of the community and elements of the built environment. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, this research explores the role both factors play in the frequency and severity of pedestrian crashes in two Central Florida communities, Pine Hills and Baldwin Park. Elements of the built environment such as lower speed limits and better lighting along with a higher percentage of households with cars leads to safer roads and fewer crashes in planned communities such as Baldwin Park. Sprawling, unplanned lower-income neighborhoods the likes of Pine Hills have poor infrastructure combined with large numbers of people walking to work or bus stops, leading to an increased number of walkers struck by vehicles. While some of these issues can be difficult to address, improvements to the built environment can make streets safer for walkers in all communities.

Background and Justification

Increasingly, streets are becoming more dangerous for pedestrians. More than 13 people per day are struck and killed by drivers every day across America (Dangerous by Design, 2019). Florida in particular consistently ranks among the worse place for pedestrians in the United States, claiming eight of the top 10 spots in Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design 2019 (2019) rankings of the most dangerous areas for walking based on the number of pedestrians struck and killed by drivers and controlling for population and percentage of people who walk to work. The top spot in 2019 belongs to the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area with 656 pedestrian deaths between 2008 and 2017 with an average of 2.82 per 100,000 people. But when it comes to pedestrian crashes, all Central Florida communities are not created equally.

Socioeconomic factors and differences in the built environment can lead to substantial differences in the number of pedestrian-related crashes form one community to the next. This study focuses on two local communities, Pine Hills and Baldwin Park, in order to understand these differences and identify next steps for future improvements. Socioeconomics plays an important role in crash frequency with significant disparities between poor and affluent areas. Pedestrian crashes are four times more likely in low-income neighborhoods, according to Chakravarthy, Anderson, Ludlow, Lotfipour, and Vaca (2010). In their study of Orange County, CA, using GIS and census tract data, they found that each one percent increase in percentage of low-income residents resulted in a 2.8 percent increase in pedestrian crashes. They also demonstrated that other factors such as age, education, population density and English fluency were associated with more crashes. But adding the variable of low income to regression analysis of these factors demonstrated that poverty was the single-biggest factor (Chakravarthy et al., 2010).

Utilizing GIS mapping, Chimba, Musinguzi and Kidando (2018) demonstrated that low car ownership leads to a higher risk of pedestrian crashes due to increased exposure resulting from a greater volume of foot traffic. Other factors they cite for elevated risk include high population density and a concentration of commercial areas. Likewise, Siddiqui, Abdel-Aty, and Choi (2014) examined areas defined as environmental justice (EJ) areas with low-income and minority populations. They found that factors such as high population density, unemployment, and low car ownership is positively associated with pedestrian crashes. “Higher pedestrian activities result in higher pedestrian exposure which, as mentioned before, will increase the possibility of pedestrian related crashes (Siddiqui et al., 2014).”

While economically disadvantaged areas pose a higher risk for pedestrian crashes, more affluent neighborhoods appear to be safer. Communities where more people commute by car and that have a higher median household income experience a reduced frequency of pedestrian crashes (Chimba et al., 2018). People in these communities are more likely to afford reliable transportation. People who own cars don’t need to walk to work or bus stops, thereby reducing their exposure risk.

The built environment also significantly impacts the frequency of pedestrian crashes. Using GIS to identify clusters of pedestrians injured in crashes, Dai (2012) found extremely elevated risks for crashes in high-activity suburban corridors where high-speed state highways intersect local streets, an environment matching the conditions in Pine Hills. Other common elements of the built environment include a mixture of business and residential properties with multiple lanes and fewer sidewalks and crosswalks. More specifically, both Pine Hills and the
identified by Dai (2012) have arterial roads with 45 mph speed limits; in Pine Hills these include State Road 50, Silver Star Road and segments of Pine Hills Road. Having these types of
roads in close proximity to commercial and residential corridors creates “high-risk zones for pedestrian injuries, where pedestrians have to negotiate with heavy fast-speed traffic on wide streets (Dai, 2012).” On arterial roads and major collectors, pedestrians face 50 times higher risk than lower-speed environments (Garder, 2004).

Another significant contributing factor of pedestrian crashes due to the built environment is poor lighting, which considerably raises the risk for pedestrian injuries (Dai, 2012). More than half of all fatal pedestrian crashes happen at night, where drivers often report they don’t see pedestrians before crashes (Retting, Ferguson & McCartt, 2003). Adequate street lighting at pedestrian crossing can reduce the odds of fatal pedestrian injury 42 percent at midblock locations and by 54 percent at intersections (Siddiqui, 2006). A study in Pinellas County, Florida, confirmed that night-time pedestrian crashes were more frequent along segments of road with low lighting levels than those that are well lit (Zhou & Hsu, 200).

Research Questions

This research focuses on two factors that may account for the disparities in the number of pedestrian crashes in the Central Florida communities of Pine Hills and Baldwin Park, each with differing socioeconomic and surrounding built environment conditions:

1. Are differing socioeconomic conditions in Pine Hills and Baldwin Park correlated to the number of pedestrian crashes?

2. Do aspects of the built environment in Pine Hills and Baldwin Park contribute to the frequency of pedestrian crashes?

Methodology

Study Setting/Neighborhood Profiles

The observed areas in this comparison of Pine Hills in Orange County, Florida, and the Baldwin Park neighborhood within the City of Orlando vary immensely. Each area has a unique history and set of circumstances occurring over time resulting in the distinct neighborhood characteristics observed today. Various styles of developments—redevelopments, or lack thereof—along with road networks from the period or style the respective neighborhoods were conceived under, have been equally influential in the statistics examined under this comparison.

Pine Hills Neighborhood Profile

The Pine Hills Community is located seven miles northwest of downtown Orlando in northwest unincorporated Orange County. The community contains 12.25 square miles of land area with the general boundaries of Apopka-Vineland Road to the west, Clarcona-Ocoee Road (SR 431) to the north, the Orlando City limits to the east, and the East-West Expressway (SR 408) to the south (Pine Hills Neighborhood Improvement District, 2015). Within this comparison, the focus area has been narrowed down to a smaller area bounded by North Hiawassee Road to the west, North Lane to the North, Pine Hills Road to the east, and Colonial Drive to the south.

Pine Hills began as a series of large-scale subdivision developments in 1953 following a nationwide pattern of post-World War II suburban development. The various developments composing the greater Pine Hills area became a bedroom community for large and major employers growing in Orlando at the time, including Martin Marietta Company, now known as Lockheed Martin (Pine Hills NID, 2015). Road networks and the development of new homes in Pine Hills followed the emerging trend of prioritizing private ownership and vehicle access, as was the intention for suburban bedroom communities. The residential street grids do not entirely connect and are cumbersome to navigate, resulting in a relative few major arterial thoroughfares handling the majority of traffic volume, particularly Colonial Drive (SR 50), Silver Star Road (SR 438), Hiawassee Road and the Pine Hills Road corridor included in our study.

By the late 1980s and through the 1990s, a significant increase in crime and overall decline plagued the community. A greater sense of blight ensued as lack of investment caused streets and properties to fall into disrepair and further economic instability resulted from the market collapse of 2008 (Pine Hills NID, 2015). Over time, the demographics of the census tracts consisting of Pine Hills created an average poverty rate of nearly 30 percent, with some tracts as high as 41percent, as noted in Table 1. Furthermore, an average of 8.2 percent of households, 1,182, in the Pine Hills area do not own a vehicle with some census tracts reaching 16.40 percent (US Department of Agriculture, 2015).

Baldwin Park Neighborhood Profile

The Baldwin Park Community is located 3.5 miles northeast of downtown Orlando within the northeastern-most portion of the city limits. The community contains 1,100 acres (1.7 sq mi) bound by the Cady Way Trail to the east and south, Bennet Road, Corrine Drive and General Reese Avenue to the west, and Glenridge Way, Gary Avenue and the Orlando VA Lake Baldwin Clinic making up the northern boundary. These boundaries are also in line with the focus area of this comparison and are roughly in-line with the 32814 ZIP code.

The Baldwin Park community lies on land that was previously used for military purposes. From World War II through the mid-1990s, the site was first known as the Orlando Army Air station and eventually became the Naval Training Center (NTC) Main Base. By 1993, the federal government identified NTC Orlando as a facility targeted for closure under the Federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission (City of Orlando, n.d.).

The City of Orlando established the Base Reuse and Urban Design Vision Plan through community input to guide transition of the property and facilities. This included a comprehensive mix of uses, linking the site with the surrounding neighborhood, public access to lakes, a main street, and a gridded street network all incorporating the use of Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) principles. As development teams were being selected for negotiations, city staff and planners were assigned to each of the teams ensuring the city’s vision and objectives and for the natural environment were incorporated, regardless of which development proposal was selected (City of Orlando, n.d.). Through multiple negotiations between Orlando, the U.S. Navy and developers, the site was sold in its entirety to one sole developer.

Presently, the Baldwin Park neighborhood has nearly been fully built-out, completely adhering to the strict development standards of New Urbanism and TND. Since development, the Baldwin Park neighborhood has become a desirable community with a relatively high median household income (U.S. Census, 2017). Poverty levels within the community average 5.7 percent of the population, as noted in Table 2. An average of 1.44 percent, or 63 households have no access to a vehicle (USDA, 2015).

Data Sources

The Pedestrian Crashes in Baldwin Park dataset was created by first extracting Baldwin Park from the Orlando Neighborhoods dataset by utilizing the Select by Attribute Feature. Once Baldwin Park was added to the dataset as its own layer, roads, pedestrian crashes, and Lynx Bus stops datasets were then incorporated into the maps. This process was done by clipping each individual dataset using the Baldwin Park Neighborhood dataset as the clip feature. Similar steps were completed for the Pedestrian Crashes in Pine Hills dataset, except in this case the Pine Hills Neighborhood was extracted from the Orange County Census Tract dataset utilizing the Select Features Tool. Once the five Census tracts were extracted, the Dissolve Tool was utilized to remove the census tract boundaries to create one neighborhood layer. Roads, pedestrian crashes, and Lynx Bus stops were then clipped using the Pine Hills Neighborhood dataset as the clip feature.

The built environment dataset for Baldwin Park was created utilizing the Baldwin Park Neighborhood layer, Baldwin Park Roads layer, and Baldwin Park Pedestrian crashes layer created for the previous dataset. Next, speed limits were displayed by taking the roads layer and adjusting the symbology to categorize by unique values using speed as the value field. To display lighting conditions for crosswalk accidents, the Baldwin Park Pedestrian crashes layer was utilized. Through the select by attributes feature, both location (within a crosswalk) and lighting conditions (dusk, dawn, nighttime – no lighting) were selected and exported, and added to the dataset as a new layer. The same step was completed for yield data, with the attributes selected being location (within a crosswalk) and cause of the accident (either pedestrian failed to yield, or motorist failed to yield). Finally, Crosswalk study locations were added to the dataset by creating a shapefile and adding the points to the dataset manually. The same steps were followed to create the Pine Hills built environment dataset, except speed limits were not included due to a dataset limitation.

Results

Overall, the GIS datasets created for this assessment had some conclusive results when comparing pedestrian crash data in two different socioeconomic neighborhoods. As displayed in the figure located in Appendix A, between January of 2014 to June of 2019, there were a total of nine pedestrian crashes that occurred in Baldwin Park. In addition, there are a total of 10 Lynx Bus stops located in Baldwin Park. In comparison, as displayed in Appendix B, between January 2014 to June 2019 there were 155 pedestrian crashes in Pine Hills and there is a total of 99 Lynx bus stops.

The GIS datasets for the built environment were created to analyze several factors of the built environment: speed limits, lighting and crosswalks. As displayed in the dataset located in Appendix C, most of the roads located in Baldwin Park have a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. Of the nine pedestrian crashes that occurred between January 2014 and June 2019, six occurred when a pedestrian was struck in a crosswalk; of these six pedestrian accidents in a crosswalk, two of them occurred due to low lighting conditions. Similarly, of the six pedestrian accidents that occurred in a crosswalk, three ere categorized as being the result of the motorist failing to yield, while the other three were categorized as being the result of the pedestrian failing to yield.

Unfortunately, speed limits could not be compared between Baldwin Park and Pine Hills due to data limitations. However, based on our literature research it appears that Pine Hills Road, a focus of the Best Foot Forward Program field research discussed below, is classified as a Minor Arterial with a speed limit of 40 mph. This speed limit is higher than the typical 25 mph or lower posted speed limits in Baldwin Park. As displayed in Appendix D, of the 155 pedestrian crashes that occurred in Pine Hills between January 2014 and June 2019, 28 occurred when a pedestrian was struck in a crosswalk. Of these 28 pedestrian crosswalk accidents, 19 occurred during low lighting conditions. Also, of the 28 pedestrian crosswalk accidents, 22 were categorized as being the result of the motorist failing to yield, while the other six were categorized as being a result of the pedestrian failure to yield.

Building from the data gathered regarding crashes in crosswalks due to motorists’ failure to yield, this analysis looked at a yield study through the Best Foot Forward Program. It shows yield averages between 2012 and 2019 for three crosswalks in Pine Hills and four crosswalks in Pedestrian Safety 12 Baldwin Park, which are all marked with a blue diamond in the datasets located in Appendix C and Appendix D. As displayed below in Table 3, the four crosswalks located in Baldwin Park had average yield rates ranging between 61 percent and 92 percent. In comparison, the three crosswalk locations in Pine Hills had average yield rates ranging between 15 percent and 19 percent.

Table 3: Best Foot Forward Crosswalk Yield Study, 2012-2019 Averages.

Conclusion

Many communities today of all socioeconomic statuses struggle with safety needs and the impacts of the built environment in which they live, work, socialize and recreate. However, older neighborhoods constructed around the automobile with sprawling networks of roads are often affected the most. This is the case for Pine Hills, a low-income area comprised of predominately minority populations in a community that is already distressed socially and economically.

Solutions to complicated problems such as the built environment can be addressed by means of best practices and governmental policies aimed to improve physical infrastructure. However, complex challenges related to socioeconomics, specifically behavior, requires overcoming deep-rooted, obscure behavioral changes to interconnected matters facing our communities. For example, bad driver conduct (poor yield rates) and pedestrian behavior (failure to cross at properly designated intersections) are complex issues; regulating a person’s actions is intangible and likely only possible by mitigating conduct through education and enforcement.

The data herein suggests that the economically disadvantaged, older neighborhood of Pine Hills postures a higher risk for pedestrian crashes, while the newer, more well-off Baldwin Park neighborhood emerges safer. Baldwin Park, for comparison, boasts higher median household incomes, has more people commuting by single-occupancy automobile trips, and appears to experience a reduced incidence of pedestrian crashes. This could be due to a number of reasons, including greater access to reliable transportation, meaning residents need not rely on public transportation or walking to work. This reduces their exposure associated with hazardous active transportation options persistent throughout the region as proven by Central Florida’s top ranking for pedestrian deaths. Little currently needs to be done to address walkability, bicycling and overall mobility within the community with the exception that designated bike lanes are in the door zone of the on-street parking. Otherwise, Baldwin Park is a sustainable and thriving community. Pine Hills, on the other hand, has large numbers of people walking to work and using public transit out of necessity, therefore, increasing their exposure to hazardous conditions.

In order to address the socioeconomic differences and safety of Pine Hills and other disadvantaged communities in the region, administrative bodies need to provide progressive, valued policies and adequate funding in order encourage suitable transportation and provide guidelines for tenable, safe environments for its citizens to thrive, not just get by. Just as urban sprawl has had undesirable effects on the built environment and existing social systems, unequitable transportation networks can have equally negative affects; however, providing a more equitable and sustainable environment can help to invigorate declining social capital and stimulate the economies of diminished neighborhoods.

It should be noted that both communities essentially have the same safety countermeasures in place, including pedestrian signage, refuge islands, school demarcations, advance stop/yield markings, warning signs, and special emphasis crosswalk striping. But the overreaching issues lie in the statistics and physical environment, which are night and day when it comes to the inordinate amount of pedestrian crashes in Pine Hills as compared to Baldwin Park. Reasoning might suggest that the built environment does indeed play a significant role in the high number of pedestrian crashes due to the fact that Pine Hills is afflicted with numerous incongruities, characterized by unregulated curb cuts, haphazard sidewalk segments, multiple wide travel lanes, and comparatively high speeds in an area consisting of large numbers of pedestrians/bicyclists, transit users, schools, residential neighborhoods, and a hodge-podge commercial development. This contrasts Baldwin Park’s relatively new and exceptional roadway and sidewalk networks and thriving, mixed-use character. Additionally, a site visit along Pine Hills Road verified missing and damaged pedestrian signage, crosswalks in need of painting, and a “pedestrian crossing” pole sign in a refuge island that appears to have been run over by a car and is skewed at a 45-degree angle.

Table 4: Best Foot Forward Crosswalk Yield Study, Countermeasures.

* Both communities would benefit from Rectangular Rapid-Flash Beacons (RRFBs) to enhance safety by providing drivers real-time warning that a pedestrian(s) is in or entering a crosswalk (USDOT, FHWA, n.d.).

Nevertheless, a counterargument could be made that pedestrian behavior may also play a significant role in the statistics. For example, Orange County conducted a pedestrian and bicycle study in 2017 with the goal to “Identify opportunities for implementing safety improvements for people walking, bicycling, driving or taking the bus” (Orange County, FL, n.d.) along the Pine Hills Road corridor. As part of the study, a survey was conducted with the following results: 38 percent always cross at intersection or crosswalk; 12 percent always do not cross at intersection or crosswalk; 50 percent often do not cross at intersections or crosswalk; and 42 percent cross all lanes at gaps/breaks in traffic. This information is intriguing and of concern, however, the results of this study demonstrate that they are not the primary contributing factor in the frequency of crashes, especially when compared to the catalyzing information provided throughout this report.

Future Directions

Present-day transportation planners, engineers and policy makers have many tools and models to work from in order to modernize and improve our built environments and address the needs of declining roadways due to the significant role our transportation infrastructure plays in the frequency of pedestrian crashes. For the community of Pine Hills to rebound, actionable steps need to be taken to improve mobility, connectivity, economic development, social capital and to provide safe accessibility throughout the corridor.

One of the most widely accepted methods being applied today is the use of Complete Streets guidelines that promote well-designed, all-inclusive infrastructure that enhances user access and overall well-being by utilizing design methods that require streets and neighborhoods to be planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe, convenient, comfortable and energy efficient travel and access: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders, emergency services, freight handlers and future modes that will evolve along with Smart Cities technology. This will allow our built environment to be more appealing and beneficial for existing and future end users.

Efforts to enhance mobility needs are being addressed by Bike/Walk Central Florida (BWCF), a 501(c)(3) organization, through public outreach and support in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties by educating the public and professionals at community and public engagements in order to promote walkable and bikeable communities while raising public awareness. The organization advocates for safe, active transportation and recreation by educating walkers, cyclists, motorists and transit riders about Florida’s road laws, their rights, responsibilities and civil behaviors; supporting transportation corridor planning and design using Complete Streets principles; and promoting a built environment that supports physical, environmental and economic health, safe transportation choices, and encourages interaction among citizens of all ages, incomes and abilities. BWCF was “born out of a belief that few people get into their cars, ride their bikes, or walk across the street with the intention of colliding (BWCF, n.d.).”

Subsequently, the Best Foot Forward (BFF) for pedestrian safety program was conceived by and is administered through BWCF. BFF uses a Triple-E approach of education, engineering and enforcement to improve driver yield rates at crosswalks as governed by Florida Law (Section 316.123 of Florida Statutes). BFF also conducts crosswalk observation and data collection to promote initiatives intended to reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries, including the communities of Pine Hills and Baldwin Park, by getting drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks while motivating pedestrians to be more careful crossing the street. Success is measured by the percentage of drivers yielding to pedestrians in marked crosswalks with the goal of reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries (BFF, n.d.).

Source: Best Foot Forward, 2019.

In addition to local, regional, state and national programs, and in order to provide contemporary means of addressing the safety and modernization of our transportation networks, Smart Cities innovations need to be considered by utilizing available technologies to improve lives and build better environments for the future. However, a focus on community is needed before any new technology is applied. Making pedestrians a priority is one of the many steps in preparing for the future of transportation. The help of new emerging technology is pointing us in a more walkable manner. “Cities are connecting themselves with technology varying from AIenabled streetlights to traffic sensors which may ensure the roads are safe for all who occupy them” (Wired Labs & Western Digital, 2019).

Moreover, while it may be difficult to visualize the economic ramifications of transportation on a community, results demonstrate that improvements to the built environment can make streets safer for all walkers as well as promote economic development by means of improved livability and sustainability. This could be the case for the future for Pine Hills after significant improvements are made, pedestrian crash rates decline, and the Pine Hills Road corridor begins to see economic revival.

References

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Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

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