What It’s Like to be “On the Ground” at Operation BFF

On March 20th, members of the Best Foot Forward Coalition, including Orange County deputies and Orlando Police officers held their 23rd crosswalk crackdown, dubbed Operation BFF. They fanned out to seven crosswalks and set up. The goal is to get more drivers to stop for people in marked crosswalks as Florida Law requires. During Operation BFF, a plainclothes deputy or officer walks through a marked crosswalk. If drivers don’t stop, uniformed officers nearby give them a $164 citation. By the end of the day, deputies and officers had stopped 62 drivers and issued a total of 50 citations for failure to yield at a crosswalk.

Operation BFF is a pretty big undertaking. Bike/Walk Central Florida staff coordinates with more than a dozen people to choose which crosswalks should be measured and enforced, set up the date and get the word out. Then they spread out just like law enforcement to each of the chosen crosswalks.

You’ve likely seen the news coverage and read the statistics, but we wanted to show you an Operation BFF from a different vantage point—from someone on the ground. Each staff member wrote his or her own account of the March 20 enforcement. We hope this gives you new insight into our mission, and why we believe in it so firmly.



University and Alafaya

If I had to pick two words to describe the most recent Operation BFF, it would be: controlled chaos

I went to the signalized crosswalk at University Drive and Alafaya Trail. It’s a busy intersection on the best of days, but on this day add a half-dozen Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies, at least four local news crews and all the UCF students freshly back from spring break.

This is one of the few signalized crosswalks in Operation BFF. You might think crossing at a stoplight is safer, but here’s the problem: it’s drivers turning right on red.

Drivers making a “right on red” turn look left to check oncoming traffic, often they forget to look right, checking for pedestrians crossing on the “walk” signal. No wonder pedestrians resort to crossing in the middle of a busy 4-lane road Frogger-style, rather than using the pedestrian signal.

Alafaya Dr. & University Blvd. Courtesy MetroPlan

On this day, Operation BFF’s mission at University and Alafaya is two-fold: to remind drivers it’s the law to stop for pedestrians, and to get more people to use the signalized crosswalks.

In an Operation BFF first, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies pulled over a bus, when the driver didn’t stop for the person in the crosswalk. The driver was shuttling students from an apartment complex onto the UCF campus. The students were upset when they all had to evacuate, but it gave us a great opportunity to teach them about the law (many didn’t know it).

Over the few hours, we were able to talk with kids living in nearby apartment complexes who walk to their classes at UCF. We handed out safety cards, talked face to face and listened their stories.

I hear it all the time, but it still shocks me—the blasé tone people use when they talk about nearly being hit by a speeding car—like it’s just a normal day.

THIS SHOULD NOT BE NORMAL.

My goal, since 2012, is to change the conversation, change the way we talk about pedestrian crashes—make it a big deal.


Pine Hills and El Trio Way

Pine Hills Rd. & El Trio Way

At first I drove right past it. I had to circle back and drive extra slowly in order to see the deputy standing on the side of the road.

“Where should I park?” I ask her. She directs me around the corner into the neighborhood.

I get out of my car, greet the reporter/photographer team from the local news station, and introduce myself to all the deputies on sight. They’re laughing and smiling… and then the action starts.

I physically cringe as I watch the “decoy” deputy cross the busy 4-lane Pine Hills Road at El Trio Way. He’s in a school zone, but it’s spring break week for Orange County Schools, so he’s the only pedestrian. Drivers break as he walks across, then they speed off down Pine Hills.

He crosses again. This time a driver zooms right passed him, going much faster than the 45 MPH speed limit, and I have to look away.

Emotionally taxing—that’s how I’d describe my first Operation BFF experience. I knew what was going to happen. We’d talked about it a hundred times in the office. But it’s still scary to watch a man put all his faith—essentially his life—into the hands of speeding, distracted drivers.

Deputies handed out 11 citations and 2 warnings at that crosswalk that day. And my resolve to further BFF’s mission became unwavering.


Lancaster Rd. and Voltaire Dr.

Lancaster Rd. & Voltaire Dr.

After spending close to five years working Operation Best Foot Forward from behind the scenes, I tackled my first live enforcement action at a brand-new BFF crosswalk location: Lancaster Rd. & Voltaire Dr.

This crosswalk recently became home to a Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon (RRFB), and I wondered if the flashing lights would deter drivers from blowing through the crosswalk. The good news is that most drivers did an excellent job stopping for the plainclothes OCSO deputy. The bad news is that some did not, and those drivers were hit with a $164 citation and a stern chat with deputies.

At this crosswalk location, I was joined by Master Deputy Jimmie Smith, our BFF contact in the sheriff’s office, to discuss crosswalk concerns and plan enforcement actions. Master Deputy Smith took the time to share insights about the enforcement process. He even let me to try out the radar gun to check drivers’ speeds.

Towards the end of the hour, a man rode through on his bicycle and thanked the deputies.

“They never stop, not even at the crosswalk,” he shared. His appreciation for their work serves as a reminder of why the BFF coalition works so hard to change driver behavior in Central Florida.


Lancaster Rd. and Voltaire Dr.

Lancaster Rd. & Voltaire Dr.

When I stepped out of the car for my first Operation BFF, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. There’s always a difference between working with the data at a computer and actually watching driver after driver get pulled over.

First, I met with the deputies enforcing our crosswalk, and their easy-going demeanor quickly calmed my nerves.

I was in charge of photography at this location; it’s a hobby of mine. Once enforcement began, I pulled out my Cannon EOS-M6 camera and began looking at the crosswalk from a new perspective. I had to tune out all the background noise and focus my lense on the most important parts: the decoy crossing the road, the distance between the required sign and the crosswalk, the drivers who stopped, and those who didn’t.

By the end, I was already thinking about how BFF could help educate drivers who live near this crosswalk specifically about the importance of checking for people walking. I’m looking forward to the next steps.


Social Media Coordinator—Bike/Walk Central Florida Offices

As the rest of the Best Foot Forward team heads out to the enforcement actions on the streets of Central Florida, I’m behind the scenes taking it all in – and sharing it with you. Yep, I’m talking about social media!

As the day starts and the team heads out to their assigned crosswalks, we all get on a group text. This way we can easily share live updates from all locations.  We also send photos, videos, and anecdotes, both good and bad.

While I love to see a video come through with cars stopping for the decoy in both directions, sadly, they are often scary and hard to watch. Drivers zoom by, unphased by the person trying to safely reach the other side of the street.

As the pictures and videos come in, I share them to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, where followers can tune in to see in real time what’s happening at each crosswalk. It’s a fast-paced job – with updates of “not enough officers to pull over all of the violators” and “check out this video of our decoy deputy dodging a speeding car” coming in a mile a minute. But I love it, because I get to be a part of the action at all locations.

As the enforcement operation comes to an end, and we can all take a breather. It’s cool to look back and have a summary of what happened at each location, and to know that we’re making our streets safer, one tweet at a time.


Westwood Blvd. West of International Drive

Westwood Blvd. midblock crossing near I-Drive

The crosswalk at Westwood Boulevard west of International Drive is well-marked, at a LYNX bus stop with lots of foot traffic from hospitality workers, convention goers and vacationers.  It’s also a location where less than 22 out of every 100 drivers stop for people crossing

I have personally witnessed drivers speeding past me at this crosswalk while I’m in my car, barely missing the person I stopped to allow to cross. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when the BFF steering committee chose to monitor and enforce the driver yield law at this crosswalk.

This was my seventh Operation BFF, but I was able to see it with a fresh perspective through the eyes of Maria Triscari, President/CEO of the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce and the leader of the I-Drive Chamber’s Pedestrian Safety Committee.  Maria joined me as we watched many drivers stop for the plainclothes deputy attempting to cross the street. Countless others whizzed past him with little regard for his safety.

We weren’t surprised that the Orange County Sheriff’s deputies could pull over driver after driver, as soon as they finished writing a ticket to the previous offender.  Overall, Maria said she was impressed with deputies conducting the operation and hopes that the continued efforts of Operation BFF convinces more drivers in the International Drive area to pay attention and yield to pedestrians.


70 W Gore and E. Central and Rosearden

70 West Gore St.

I can’t tell you about this Operation BFF without telling you about my first day working for Day Communications and Bike/Walk Central Florida. It was November 7, 2018.

The day before starting my new marketing and communications job in a beautiful office in Winter Park, I got a call from my boss. Amanda Day told me Operation BFF was happening tomorrow, AKA my first day. Next thing I knew, I was standing on a sidewalk of International Drive watching an undercover officer have more too-close-for-comfort near-misses with drivers who were FLYING past him in the middle of the crosswalk and then watching officers one block down the street give citations to driver after driver.

Woah – this job was not what I was expecting. 

Fast-forward almost five months, and I was thrilled to have another first-hand look at the action of Operation BFF (I was more mentally prepared, this time!). But this time was much different. I attended two crosswalks: 70 W. Gore St. and E. Central Blvd & Rosearden Dr.

Unfortunately, the Orlando Police Department Motor Unit was understaffed, so I volunteered to walk across the crosswalk at Gore St. myself. Earlier, I had attended the data collection at this location, so I was familiar with it. Even though this crosswalk had new engineering improvement including crisp paint and flashing beacons, it was still absolutely terrifying crossing the street. In certain moments, I would have to pause in the MIDDLE of the FOUR LANE street because drivers were zooming past me. But, all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of drivers that did follow the law and yield to me.

At the other crosswalk, E. Central Blvd & Rosearden Dr., there was not a lot of driver traffic, but let me tell you, when a car was approaching the crosswalk, you had to finish crossing FAST. Despite the low speed limit, only 25 MPH, drivers were flying down the street. The number of times a driver had to break at the last minute to yield to the person crossing the street? Too many for me to keep track.

WOW what a unique experience it is to be on the ground at our crosswalk crackdown and know that I’m part of a team working to make a difference—to keep more people safe.



Part of what Best Foot Forward goes beyond just enforcement. We work with a team of data collectors to see how many drivers are yielding for people in the chosen crosswalks. We measure the driver yield rate before the enforcement operation and after—to see if it made a difference. Our triple-E approach includes not just enforcement, but also engineering and education. Often our data helps city and county planners decide that engineering changes are needed at certain crosswalks. Finally, Bike/Walk Central Florida staff go out into the communities surrounding the chosen crosswalks to conduct education sessions to teach drivers about Florida Law.

 

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