Monday, November 29, 2010

Road Context: A Disconnect

The Miami Herald wrote a troubling editorial.  The Florida Department of Transportation maintains a pedestrian-hostile environment, Brickell Avenue, and then, due to insufficient pedestrian activity, claims FDOT regulations disallow slower design speeds and most other pedestrian safety improvements.  It doesn't matter that thousands of condominiums and apartments tower overhead.  You can find photographs and an article by clicking HERE

The agency charged with designing, constructing, and maintaining State of Florida roadways -- the nation's most perilous for pedestrians -- enforces out-of-date policies when it comes to road context.  The disconnect results in a grim, mounting death toll--including an elderly woman on Brickell Avenue last month--warranting legislative intervention, if FDOT won't update its regulations on its own.  It's time for FDOT to assume a leadership position and provide for "complete streets," safe and comfortable for motorists and non-motorists--and appropriate for the context.

Click here for the Miami Herald editorial.

UPDATE 12/17/10:  The Brickell Avenue controversy is heading towards resolution.  FDOT conducted additional studies and agreed to lower the speed limits to 35 mph (still not low enough for some) and to add Bike Share lane markings.  You can get more details by clicking HERE.

UPDATE 1/5/11:  An op-ed in the Miami Herald is criticizing plans for only four new crosswalks on Brickell Avenue, three at existing intersections, out of 25 proposed locations.  Click HERE for the Miami Herald op-ed. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Even a 7 Year Old Can Figure Out Urbanism

Windermere Elementary School teacher Anthony Simms assigned his second grade students the task of creating a city or town.  Future planner Max Geller received an A+ for his paper machete town, inspired by Downtown Winter Garden, where we often bike on the West Orange Trail.  The elementary school terminates a vista (now illegal in most jurisdictions).  A photo of my high school inspired the architecture, including pillars made of straws and a dome made from a paper bowl.  The roads are narrow, slow, and safe, with wide sidewalks shaded by trees.   Apartments provide a ready source of customers for the retail below.  Max didn't even consider creating a town of strip shopping centers and highways that kids can't cross safely.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Child Deaths, Injuries Warrant Road Design Investigations

You may have noticed a lot of kids critically injured and killed on our roads last week. Children with green lights, in crosswalks, walking to school, walking to catch a school bus.  Boys losing their brothers.  Parents losing their children. Reading about this carnage day after day in the Sentinel is unbearable. I'm hugging my four kids a little harder every night.

A pick-up truck struck and critically injured Douglas Ethan Swayze, 10, walking in the crosswalk directly in front of his elementary school, Spruce Creek, in Port Orange.  The road is a typical 45 mph posted arterial highway engineered for 50 mph traffic.  The child had about 70 feet of pavement to cross, with no refuge island, exposing him to danger for an extended period of time. 

Taylor Road--The highway in front of Spruce Creek Elementary School (lower left-hand part of photo) in Volusia County where Douglas Swayze, 10, was struck and critically injured while walking to school in the crosswalk.  The crosswalk, in the upper center of the photo, is not lit.    
I cannot comprehend why a school board member, school planner, or official would place elementary schools on highways, where we know children will walk. 

A week earlier, in front of nearby Silver Sands Middle School, a car hit Kasey Alexander, 12, and Sarah Griffin, 11, but only injured them slightly.  The road is two-lanes, tamer, and safer compared to Taylor Road.

The two-lane road in front of Silver Sands Middle School. 
Studies find a correlation between the percentage of pedestrians who survive a collision and vehicle speed.  Billy Hattaway, VHB Miller Sellen's director of transportation planning for the State of Florida, gave me the following chart:
To summarize the chart: speed kills. 

In East Orange County last week, a motorist ran over and injured Miguel Rodriguez and killed his twin brother, Anthony Rodriguez, both 15 years old. Anothony was an English honors student and football player.  The brothers were walking to their school bus stop on the side of Valencia College Lane.  There's no sidewalk on the highway, yet that's where Orange County Public Schools designated a school bus stop.   

The Orlando Sentinel reported the family was "angered that the teens could no longer use a bus stop close to their house — accessible by a side walk. A school district spokeswoman said that bus stop is for middle school students. Anthony and Miguel couldn't use it anymore because they graduated to high school."  This terrible policy had deadly consequences.   
In Kissimmee last week, a Lynx bus ran over and injured Mark Robinson, 12, and killed his brother, Mathew Robinson, 10, walking with a green light in a crosswalk in Kissimmee.  Look at the well-rounded curb radius--about 35-40 feet--which encourages high speed vehicle turns.

The Lynx bus turned left, heading northbound on Dyer Blvd. to westbound on Columbia Avenue.  Numerous apartments are in the northeast corner.  The approximately 40 foot curb radii encourages vehicle turns exceeding 30 mph. 
Compare those curbs to those in old neighborhoods, or New York City, where curbs are more square than round.  That slows vehicle turns to speeds safer for pedestrians. 
The Dangerous by Design report came out in November 2009 and--one year later--I am hard pressed to identify substantial measures undertaken by FDOT and our local governments to improve upon our #1 in the nation pedestrian danger ranking. 

Putting aside designated sources for transportation funding, it's ironic that we can spend $70 million widening three miles of the Turnpike, $12 million tearing out part of the 429, hundreds of thousands on this and that intersection widening, and not more than a pittance making our existing roads safe for pedestrians. 

10/17/10 UPDATE: I received the following information from the Orange County Planning Department regarding $2.4 million in budgeted pedestrian safety items not in the Capital Improvement Element:
The Public Works engineering budget includes $2 million for sidewalks.  Last year the County spent $1,774,194. A safety committee meets to prioritize projects for this budget item.  Additionally, Traffic Engineering has $419,500 budgeted for FY11 for pedestrian safety. This funding is for safe routes to school. Last year the County spent $675,000 under this line item.  In addition to these line items, funding for new roads or road widenings include sidewalks, and new subdivisions are required to construct sidewalks.
I did not find any projects to redesign dysfunctional roads in the DRAFT Orange County Capital Improvements Element probably because the Element is directed to facilities needing minimum Levels of Service (e.g. levels of service for automobile flow).   It is counterintuitive that a "road diet"--removing lanes and slowing traffic--can improve a road's level of service.  However, East Central Florida Regional Planning Council executive director Phil Laurien told the Council this morning that a road diet, if done correctly, can have that effect. 

We should not single out Orange County for criticism.  Can anyone name one existing arterial or collector road elsewhere in Central Florida redesigned in the last year to slow-down motorists for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists?

The new Town of Windermere roundabout next to the Elementary School is a notable exception.  The roundabout provides an example how a local government can keep a road safe and narrow.  Traffic tie-ups have virtually vanished while low-engineered speed traffic enables motorists and pedestrians (mostly children) to make eye contact.  Motorists then ease to a stop and wave the kids to cross.  After a Federal SAFETEA-LU grant, the roundabout will cost the Town about $120,000, according to my discussion with town manager, Cecelia Bernier.  By comparison, a traffic light would have cost the Town at least $225,000 while imposing ongoing electrical and maintenance costs. 

The time has long passed to consider sweeping reform of our road design standards, both locally and at the State level.  We need road designs sensitive to the context.  Where we know kids will walk--in front of schools and apartments--we need design standards that slow the traffic.  We need to narrow the lanes. We need landscaping that gives motorists a better sense of their speed.  We need to require lit pedestrian crossings and refuge islands.  The Institute of Transportation Engineers has published new standards for designing walkable, urban thoroughfares that warrant adoption.  The Federal Highway Administration endorses the concept.  A growing national movement advocates "complete streets," designed for all road users, not merely motorists.  Local governments take note: Federal grants opportunities are shifting in this direction, as Windermere's experience with their new roundabout demonstrates. 

Saving motorists an extra 10-15 seconds (lost at the next red traffic light) was not worth the lives of Anthony Rodriguez or Mathew Robinson.  In the meantime, official investigations into their senseless deaths and the other incidents discussed here warrant in-depth consideration of the role played by poor road design. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Voters Give Smart Growth Mandate to Teresa Jacobs

Source: Orange County Supervisor of Elections
Teresa Jacobs' overwhelming 68% victory for Orange County Mayor translates into one of sweeping geographic scope.  The election results, and the precinct map above, confirm she is Central Florida's most formidable--and popular--public figure. 

In her campaign mailers, Teresa touted her chairmanship of the Central Florida Smart Growth Alliance.

Teresa stated she opposes expanding the Urban Service Area when our population is not growing and so much of our urban core needs redevelopment.  Teresa voiced her opposition to Innovation Way East, which included two miles of one acre homesite sprawl next to the Econ River.   (That was the basis of my "no" vote on the Planning and Zoning Commission). 

On the campaign trail, Teresa promised "frankly, more urban" development for Orange County.  That's a good thing.  Urban means walkability.  It means development patterns shifting to create human-scaled environments like Baldwin Park and Celebration--with safe streets so our kids can walk and bike to school and to interesting places--and less disconnected, traffic-clogged, strip shopping center suburban sprawl based on 45+ mph highways that severely maim or kill our children walking to school and waiting for their school bus.

While campaigning, Teresa spoke of her lost effort in the 1990's to replace a planned arterial highway--Apopka-Vineland Road--with a tamer road that would not have divided her neighborhood.  The experience propelled her into public life. 

At the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Candidates Forum, Teresa spoke in favor of a transportation future that is "multi-modal."  At a WMFE debate, she described SunRail as an "insurance policy" to keep our economy moving when we again see gas prices soaring to $4.00 or more. 

  At the Orlando Business Journal's Mayoral Candidates Forum, Teresa spoke of the need for "predictability" in how development appears.  She spoke of the need to streamline bureaucracy so that good development is not stymied.  Form-based SmartCodes, like those adopted by Miami and Denver this year, incorporate both principles and merit her serious consideration.  Orange County staff will come under Teresa's direction in January.  As staff prepares a Unified Land Development Code, you can rest assured that Teresa will read every word and consider every detail. 

The voters gave Teresa a mandate to lead Orange County into a Smart Growth future--and that mandate is as strong as anyone can conceive. 

For more on the principles of Smart Growth, click HERE

Mayor-elect Teresa Jacobs and family.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Amendment 4's Defeat a "Wake up Call to End Sprawl"

Eliza Harris, director of the Congress for the New Urbanism's Orlando Division, says, in wake of Amendment 4's defeat, local governments and developers should thank voters for a "second chance" to do better land planning.  Amendment 4 would have required voter approval of comprehensive land use plans.  She called the massive effort to defeat Amendment 4 a "wake up call" to "end the sprawl that congests our roads, endangers pedestrians, and chokes off transportation alternatives." 

"CNU Orlando's Advisory Committee is urging local governments to revise their comprehensive plans to make walkable development--instead of sprawl--the default development pattern," Harris said. "To avoid future proposals like Amendment 4, local governments need to fundamentally change their required development patterns.  Miami and Denver did so this year by replacing their zoning codes with SmartCodes and some local jurisdictions like the City of Orlando have started to create space in their regulations for walkable neighborhoods.  Local governments in Central Florida should revise their Comprehensive Plans to enable form-based codes and mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods."

You can find her full comments at The Daily City.