Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to Fix America's Most Dangerous Streets?


Sierrans Engage Statewide as Florida DOT Finally Addresses Crisis

 
Bicyclists ride to join Hands Across
the Sand
@ St. Pete Beach 8/4/12.
photo by Alan Snel

Walking or riding a bike down Florida's streets is more dangerous than anywhere else in the U.S. This sad state of affairs not only results in America's highest rates of injuries and fatalities, it also keeps many Floridians stuck behind the wheel, afraid to take short trips in their community on foot or on a bicycle. Last month over 3,600 Floridians signed Sierra Club’s letter to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Ananth Prasad addressing their concerns and recommendations regarding this dreadful, deadly distinction. The letter was received by Secretary Prasad’s office Wednesday morning.


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FDOT is conducting a series of stakeholder roundtable sessions – one in each DOT district except NW FL – intended to begin the development of pedestrian and bicycling safety improvements as recommended by a recent report of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). These sessions, are being held with little public notice and in locations and times that make it difficult for many residents Floridians to be involved in the process of making our state’s streets safer. Despite this barrier, concerned Floridians responded to Sierra Club’s news of the stakeholder roundtables by attending each of the six FDOT sessions held around the state.

“We believe it’s important that all citizens concerned about our state’s crisis of dangerous streets have the chance to participate in the process of making them safer,” said Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign Representative Phil Compton. “Despite the fact that Florida Department of Transportation is holding public meetings without inviting the public, we have nevertheless ensured that our members and supporters who share our concerns are aware of the meetings so they may participate. In Tampa 18 members of the public took time out on a Monday morning at the beginning of a work week to participate and show their strong support for making our state’s streets safer and accessible for all. We hope Secretary Prasad’s office shares our concern that making our streets safer for all who use them must become a high priority for Florida."

Not only is the safety of individuals who walk or ride bikes a serious concern, but our dangerous streets force many to drive when they would rather walk or ride a bike, but who, with good reason, are afraid to. This gross deficiency of our transportation system adds more vehicle miles traveled by cars and trucks, adds more traffic congestion and adds more air pollution, especially smog (a.k.a. ozone).

Everyone needs safer streets, not just those who now walk and ride their bikes on our dangerous streets. And not just those who would walk or ride their bike more often were our streets safer, but also children with asthma and seniors with COPD and cardiac disease who now suffer from Florida's unhealthy levels of ozone generated by our excessive vehicular traffic. When Floridians feel safe walking or riding a bike, instead of driving, everyone who breathes the air benefits. Everyone gets a little healthier, not just those who are getting some exercise by walking or riding their bike instead of driving."

The Sierra Club is concerned that the new transportation bill, MAP 21 that Congress passed on June 30, for the first time gives governors control of half of funds for critical safe walking and bicycling improvements (the other half still being controlled by local Metropolitan Planning Organizations). Governors and their Departments of Transportation now have the ability to choose to opt out of using these funds for their intended purpose. “Clearly, many average Floridians care deeply about making our streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. We applaud FDOT for finally addressing this grave situation, but urge the Department to recognize the level of public concern and fully engage citizens from the beginning of the process in an open and transparent manner that ensures that the safety of all who use our streets remains a high priority,” said Jacksonville transportation activist Linda Bremer.

Alan Snel, director of South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, attended Monday morning’s session in Tampa and states: “It was good to see Florida DOT District 7 (Tampa Bay area) Secretary Don Skelton acknowledge at the start of the bike-ped discussion that there is a problem of too many bicyclists and pedestrians being hit by cars and that his agency needs to take steps to address this issue."

"We need a fundamental new cultural shift in Tampa Bay to educate motorists that bicyclists and pedestrians are co-users of our right-of-ways that we call streets and roads and that they need to change their behaviors about sharing the road with vulnerable users such as bicyclists and pedestrians. Getting people on bicycles is good policy. It decreases dependence on constantly widening roads and building new parking lots, has proven to be effective transportation for urban areas and is part of a healthy lifestyle.”

In its letter to Secretary Prasad, Sierra Club stated its support for the full implementation of the NHTSA report recommendations, and urged him to adopt the following policies:

“FDOT must incorporate and analyze pedestrian and bicycle crash data in setting measurable goals and strategies to immediately reduce deaths on various problem roads and intersections throughout the state.”

“FDOT should take a leadership role in providing training and education for other agencies such as law enforcement, transit agencies, media, as well as community organizations whose members include at-risk pedestrian and bicyclists such as churches, AARP, and school and college programs."

“FDOT must immediately adopt an inclusive program such as Complete Streets and remove all exceptions and exemptions to road construction that protects bicyclists and pedestrians.”

“Legislation must be sponsored to require pedestrian and bicycle safety to be incorporated in every driver licensing and education program especially on-line licensing through the use of enhanced graphics, videos and illustrated scenarios.”

“We are asking you as Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation to help remove Florida from this disgraceful condition and create a state which is welcoming and safe for bicycle and pedestrian road use by making pedestrian and bicycle safety a greater priority in our state.”

FDOT's stakeholder roundtables were held August 6-10 in Tampa, Bartow, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Deland and Jacksonville.

Phil Compton, Florida Healthy Air Campaign
St.Petersburg - 727-824-8813, ext. 303