Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Overwhelming Community Support for SunRail Greets Secretary Prasad

Florida's Secretary of Transportation, Ananth Prasad, conducted a day-long tour, from Daytona Beach to Osceola County to gauge community sentiment towards SunRail, Central Florida's decade-long planned commuter rail line.

Overwhelming community support for SunRail greeted him at the Maitland and Orange County Commission hearings I attended, and reportedly at the other hearings as well.

At the Maitland meeting, one SunRail opponent made the mistake of asking audience members to stand if they'd take the train instead of their cars. Virtually the entire audience stood. Many in the overflow crowd already standing raised their hands.

At the Orange County hearing, Mayor Teresa Jacobs similarly asked opponents and then supporters to stand. Again, supporters vastly outnumbered opponents.

At both hearings, pro-SunRail speakers outnumbered opponents, though each side received equal time. 

One naysayer accused attendees of comprising of "special interests."  The special interests included a severely disabled woman dependent on transit, a young nursing student who intends to reside in a city with rail transit, and, at the Maitland hearing, my Rollins Land Use Law student, Logan Laughlin, who said he was suffering from high blood pressure from driving in congestion.  His comments brought a smile to Secretary Prasad.

MetroPlan's Harry Barley warned that, if Central Florida violates Clean Air standards, Federal funding for road construction will grind to a halt. SunRail, he said, is a step towards cleaner air and expressed concern over rising levels of asthma among children.  He urged the Secretary to uphold MetroPlan's regional vision.

After the hearing, Mayor Jacobs escorted Secretary Prasad to the Commissioner's conference room, where I sat with an overflow crowd, 90 percent of whom, again, supported SunRail.  I had a brief moment to present the following chart to the Secretary, demonstrating that we can't build our way out of congestion.

(The numbers on the left side of the graph are in the millions--you can add "000" to get the reported figures).  Increasing vehicle miles traveled on Metro Orlando's highways since 1992 have far exceeded increases in highway capacity. I told the Secretary we need cost-effective ways to reduce the gap.  (In fact, SunRail provides an opportunity to obtain the capacity of one lane of I-4 at a fraction of the cost of road construction.)  I told the Secretary that I hoped he would recommend to the Governor that we proceed. 

If I were the Secretary, I would advise the Governor that he faces acute political risk if he tries to scuttle SunRail.

Monday, June 20, 2011

FDOT Begins Review of Pedestrian, Bicyclist Safety Policies

The Sun Sentinel published an interview of FDOT's new secretary, Ananth Prasad, in which he announced that FDOT has begun a "thorough review" of its policies relating to pedestrian and bicyclist safety.  Here's an excerpt:
Q: In May, a new report ranked four Florida metro areas, including Orlando at No. 1 and South Florida at No. 4, among the nation's most dangerous for pedestrians. You recently testified before Congress that it might not make sense to build sidewalks, landscaping and bike trails. Can you elaborate?
A: My point was we should not have pre-established goals. We need to make sure it's needs-driven rather than a fixed amount of money or a percentage of the program spent on landscaping or sidewalks where they might not make sense.
Florida has been doing very good. Our highways are the safest in their history. (In 2009, the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said traffic deaths in Florida dropped to a historic low. The state recorded 2,563 traffic fatalities in 2009, compared with 3,533 in 2005.)
We're committed to pedestrian safety. The numbers are trending downward. We recognize that one accident and one life taken is one too many. We've started a thorough review of our policies. We're going to make sure any changes we need to make continue to make our roads safer for pedestrians, for people in automobiles and for bicyclists.
I'm told by those who know him that Secretary Prasad is an honorable man, so I'm taking him at his word.  I'm convinced, after consulting with some of Florida's leading transportion engineers and planners, that we can gradually, over time, improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by incorporating the Institute of Transportation Engineers' cutting-edge Walkable Thoroughfares manual into FDOT's Florida Greenbook, which sets design standards for thoroughfares maintained by local governments, and the Plans Preparation Manual, for State thoroughfares. 

Secretary Prasad is correct that pedestrian facilities do not always make sense.  We need to adopt Complete Streets design standards on a context-determinative basis.  We need to focus our attention on schools, parks, where pedestrians regularly cross thoroughfares from apartments to bus transit stops, and on compact urban areas, such as downtowns and central business districts. 

It's one thing to adopt a Complete Streets policy, which Florida arguably already has by requiring "full consideration" of bicyclist and pedestrian safety needs.  It's another to incorporate meaningful design standards for areas where they're warranted.  The Secretary and FDOT deserve a chance to improve pedestrian safety standards in suburban, and especially in compact urban areas.  It doesn't make sense to endanger pedestrians by designing thoroughfares for 50 mph motorist travel where two minute traffic signal cycles undermine time and capacity gains from such speeds.   Where warranted by the context and public safety, we need to slow the traffic.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Turn Florida's Deadly Roads into Safe Ones

The Orlando Sentinel ran the following guest column last Sunday.  The "Dr. Phillips Club," referred to in the op-ed, is the Dr. Phillips Rotary Club. 

Click to enlarge.
Transportation for America posted an interactive map showing the location of pedestrian deaths nationwide.  The Orlando map shows FDOT arterials--East Colonial, Semoran, and OBT--as lines of death.

Source: Transportation for America
Transportation for America posted the following message:
Our federal tax dollars actually go to build these streets that are designed to be perilous to children, older adults and everyone else. And yet, right now, some in Congress are considering the total elimination of funding for projects to make it safer to walk and bicycle.
....  But 67 percent of these fatalities over the last 10 years occurred on federal-aid roads — roads eligible to receive federal funding or with federal guidelines or oversight for their design.
The irony is that fixing these conditions is relatively cheap: Existing funds for that purpose — now targeted for elimination — amount to less than 1.5 percent of the current federal transportation outlay.  ....