From Bryan Nelson
Orange County Commissioner, District 2
Crossing a busy street is risky no matter where you are. But it is especially dangerous right here in Central Florida.
Twice in the past five years, metro Orlando has ranked as the worst place in the country for pedestrian safety. The numbers are grim. In Orange County alone, 36 pedestrians are killed, and 540 more are injured, each year after being struck by cars or other vehicles. That’s enough people to fill four Boeing 737 jets – every single year. And nearly one of every 8 victims is a child.
But we’re trying to change things, through a program called “Best Foot Forward.” Launched in 2012 by Bike/Walk Central Florida, an organization that advocates for pedestrians and cyclists, Best Foot Forward aims to reduce the number of pedestrian accidents in central Florida by making sure pedestrians cross streets more carefully – and making sure that drivers yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. More than a dozen local governments throughout Central Florida have signed on to the coalition, including both Orange County and Apopka.
Best Foot Forward is making our streets safer by taking a “Triple E” approach to change. The first “E” stands for engineering, and it includes physical safety improvements like crosswalk signals, street lights and pavement markings. The second “E” is for education, with community outreach efforts focused on areas with especially high rates of pedestrian accidents.
The third “E” stands for enforcement. Four times a year, dozens of Orange County deputies and Orlando police officers fan out to catch drivers blowing through crosswalks and putting pedestrians at risk. Working undercover, plain-clothed officers enter marked crosswalks while giving oncoming traffic more than enough time to yield. Drivers who fail to do get either a warning – or a ticket that costs them $164 each, plus three points on their license.
The latest “Operation Best Foot Forward” sting was conducted at 7:30 the morning of Wednesday, June 14th, at six area crosswalks – including the one at Pine Hills Road and El Trio Way in District 2. Over the course of six hours, deputies and police officers wrote more than 400 tickets and gave out more than 400 warnings. It was a disappointing showing from Orange County drivers. The percentage of drivers who yielded to the crosswalk rose a little bit from last year. But it wasn’t a significant increase – which should be everyone’s goal.
Over time, though, the program is making a difference. Best Foot Forward stings have now produced nearly 3,000 tickets and almost 5,000 warnings. And more importantly, they are changing behavior: The percentage of drivers yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks climbs from about 17 percent before a sting to 63 percent after on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or lower. And the yield rate jumps from 2 percent to 28 percent in roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or higher. According to the Federal Highway Administration, pedestrian fatalities increase from 5 percent at 20 mph to 85 percent at 40 mph.
Of course, we still have plenty of room for improvement. Nobody is satisfied when nearly three out of every four drivers still fails to yield to crosswalks on our fastest roads. Best Foot Forward has set a long-term goal of cutting pedestrian accidents in half within 10 years. I’m confident we can do it. More importantly, for the safety of ourselves and everyone around us, we must do it.