Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pedestrian Safety in Metro Orlando

Advocating a new approach to pedestrian safety and mobility on arterial and collector roadways

Metro Orlando is the most dangerous metro area for pedestrians in the nation.  Urban sprawl, poor planning, land development patterns and the high-speed, high volume collector arterial roadways these propagate are principally responsible for an unsafe pedestrian environment.  Innovative new pedestrian infrastructure is an important part of the way to a Metro Orlando that is more pedestrian safe and friendly.

The past:  The problem and how we got here
The story of how Metro Orlando grew rapidly after World War II in typical suburban sprawl fashion almost totally dependent on motor vehicle transportation is well known and oft repeated.  What this regional planning for total dependence on the automobile and resulting rapid sprawl left in its wake is a sparse network of collector and arterial roads jammed with motor vehicles traveling at high speeds and very unsafe for, and unfriendly to pedestrians.

Metro Orlando is ranked at the top of dangerous communities for pedestrians in the 2009 “Dangerous by Design” report by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership.
It is virtually impossible to get anywhere in Metro Orlando without using this network of dangerous collectors and arterials.  Thus all its citizens wishing to travel wholly or partially on foot must use these roads and be exposed to the danger of being killed or injured.

It is not just an issue of safety for those using these streets; it’s also a moral issue of making those streets available for all citizens to use in safe and quiet enjoyment.  Too many citizens feel they have to use their motor vehicle for safety and peace of mind instead of the alternative of walking.

The future:  Where we need to go
The incentives to reduce our dependence on motor vehicular transportation are many and large, and will become even more important and compelling in the near future.  Limited energy resources, global warming, congested highways, reduced transportation funding and unacceptable fatality rates are all reasons to seek alternatives to motor vehicles by themselves, and when taken together, necessitate change.

Moving to alternative transportation modes such as bus, bus rapid transit, or rail all necessitate more walking on the part of transit users.  Making our streets safe and friendly for all users is a necessary condition to adopting these alternative modes.  In addition, the ability of citizens to walk more allows them to pursue healthier lifestyles.

Making the transition:  How to get from here to there
In order to safely and effectively use Metro Orlando’s network of arterial and collector roads, pedestrians have to be able to walk comfortably along the side of the roadway and to cross the road safely and effectively.  An effective way to summarize what’s required is the three “E’s”:

Engineering.  Just as roads must be well engineered to allow safe use by motor vehicles, those same roads must provide safe and effective pedestrian infrastructure.  Today’s roads built with the focus on moving motor vehicles fast, do not provide adequate pedestrian infrastructure.  New, widened and resurfaced roads must provide adequate pedestrian infrastructure to allow safe, comfortable and convenient use, and older, non-compliant roads must be upgraded to the same level of safety and convenience on an aggressive schedule.  Florida Department of Transportation must take the lead on this since most arterials are state roads and FDOT planning, design standards and precedence filter down to counties and municipalities. They have a responsibility to deal with the pedestrian safety issues in a meaningful way, and should be measured on their success in achieving safety.

Education.  Both motorists and pedestrians must be aware of their rights and responsibilities to use the road system effectively and with due regard to the rights and safely of other users.  Equally important, public officials and transportation planners and designers must be made aware of the needs of pedestrians.  Driver licensing must incorporate more pedestrian safety material, and pedestrian education programs must be developed to reach ever more present and future pedestrians.

Enforcement.  As the infrastructure and rules of the road are being put in place, effective, diligent and continuous enforcement is required for the system to work safely and equitably.  This enforcement must be a priority with regional police units and it must be funded by counties and municipalities.

The role of technology:  A bright spot on the horizon
Increasing use of improved pedestrian features such as signal control systems,  l.e.d. and strobe lights give the design engineer a broad pallet to work with in designing innovative pedestrian infrastructure systems.  Some examples are sensors that detect the presence of pedestrians, strobe light attention getting beacons, sensitive vehicle sensors in the pavement, versatile and reliable computer controls, and audible and visual pedestrian warning and information systems. In addition, those existing signal systems should be timed to reduce pedestrian delay, which again discourages walking, and contributes to jaywalking

This technology can be use to design systems that are cost effective ways to provide safe pedestrian access to our road system.  One example is an un-signalized pedestrian crosswalk with a flashing strobe warning beacon activated by a pedestrian sensor, but only when vehicle traffic is favorable for pedestrian crossing.  The pedestrian would be warned to wait for the signal to activate before crossing.

Innovation, experimentation and the scientific method:  We can’t learn without trying
Transportation design is a big, big business.  It is the responsibility of the public agencies that fund and administer the roads.  It is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly since thousands of users are on  our roadways every day and depend on them to get where they need to go safely, comfortably and effectively.   

This awesome responsibility has created a structure with multitudinous rules and regulations in an attempt to make sure designs are as safe for motor vehicles as they can be.  However, this same structure also makes innovation difficult and glacially slow.  This needs to change.  Design professionals with the ability to authorize new and innovative solutions to pedestrian safety must be willing to experiment with these new ideas and accelerate adoption of those that prove themselves.  Only by trying new things, carefully monitoring the results, and then rapidly approving the winners can we hope to provide innovative, cost effective solutions to pedestrian infrastructure problems.

Future Growth that is Smart Growth will mean Pedestrian Convenience and Safety
Unplanned and improperly planned growth resulting in suburban sprawl has brought on the present crisis in un-walkable communities and pedestrian safety.  Future growth should be planned using Smart Growth principals so the same mistakes are not repeated.  Land use plans and regulations and transportation plans must be tightly integrated to achieve optimal use of all modes of transportation.  Metro Orlando is at the point where there is no other alternative.  Our precious natural environment, our air quality and our quality of life are all dependent on citizens and public officials that embrace Smart Growth and make it a reality.

Conclusions and recommendations:
Action is warranted and overdue to make our roadways safer and more convenient for pedestrians.  All public officials and transportation planners and designers should make pedestrian safety a high priority. Funding to upgrade existing roads, educate the public and enforce pedestrian safety should be provided.  Design professionals should be seeking innovative solutions and be open to suggestions on how to solve safety issues.  Future growth should be planned using Smart Growth principals.  Working together we can all make a difference.

No comments: