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.