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WMFE: Coalition Works to Make Orlando Streets Safer for Pedestrians

 WMFE — For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And, more than six months after the program launched, there are already some signs of improvement.

Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering.

But, Orlando has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.

“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer who is collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. Carpenter says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.

Carpenter has been monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. As a pick up truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park, he steps cautiously into the road, stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.

“Motorists reactions run the gamut,” says Carpenter.

“There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”

Bill Carpenter’s dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.

In East Orlando, a restaurant worker named Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.

“This intersection here, it’s crazy,” he says.

When asked if the drivers are courteous he replies: “No. They’d rather run you over.”

Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated well over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars. It’s too soon to tell if injury rates are coming down.

But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says the project manager Brad Kuhn

“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three,” he says.

That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county- more drivers are yielding for pedestrians than when the program started last June.

Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88 thousand households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But Kuhn says high speed roads are still a problem.

“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them, which is unfortunate, because on a 40 mile an hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”

Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.

Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglass says some drivers he talks to, turn the attention back on the pedestrian.

“They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”

Best Foot Forward is trying out low cost engineering like signs and road markings- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.

It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk- when activated a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons helped cut the pedestrian accident rate by roughly half over the last ten years.

Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project.

“I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than 6 or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will translate into fewer pedestrians ending up in hospital.

Originally published on Feb. 18, 2013, by Matthew Peddie for WMFE.

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