Orlando Must Get Serious About Street Safety for all Users
Orlando is no longer the most dangerous walk to walk in the country, according to the 2022 Dangerous by Design report by Smart Growth America.
The Orlando region dropped from 1st to 8th place, replaced by the Daytona metro area at the top.
While this might appear to be good news, in actuality Orlando is not getting safer.
Rather, other places are getting more deadly, with every one of the top 20 most dangerous metros getting more deadly over the past decade, and pedestrian deaths in the USA hitting a 40-year high in 2021.
While the entire nation is becoming more dangerous for walking, Florida is particularly dangerous, as the second deadliest state with 4 of the top 10 most dangerous metro areas.
Other countries have seen rapid reductions in traffic deaths sadly our country continues to be the exception among wealthy developed countries.
This continued disregard for the safety and wellbeing of people outside of cars leaders at every level of government cannot continue.
With ongoing high gas prices, having safe streets to walk or bike for daily activities would allow people to save money as well as get essential physical activity.
However, the risks from walking on our dangerous streets counteracts any potential benefits or cost savings.
Trying to instill healthy physical habits in my six year daughter is hard when she is afraid to walk or ride her bike around our neighborhood.
Our unsafe streets means our children cannot even safely walk or bike to school.
The percentage of students walking or biking to school has decreased dramatically from 42 percent in 1969 to only 10 percent in 2017, leading to rises in mental and physical problems for our youth.
Parents often complain their children stay locked inside on computers and phones, but when streets are so dangerous to walk or bike on, why would you expect children to leave the safety of their screens?
The continued rise in deaths for vulnerable road users is tragic, but the good news is we have the tools and knowledge to reverse the trend.
Countries like France have dramatically reduced traffic deaths by reducing speed limits, enforcing limits with automatic speed cameras, and creating car-free pedestrianized zones near places like schools.
The City of Orlando has committed to the Vision Zero pledge to reduce traffic deaths to zero and have taken some actions to better safety.
However these small steps are not enough.
The Corrine drive redesign is not expected to be completed until 2027 and the Downtown loop is a small segment when we need an entire network of protected bike paths. The Orlando municipality is only a small segment of the broader region and we need coordinated safety efforts at every level of government.
The planning process reinforces the status quo by prioritizing community engagement over effective action. It should not be left up to the people who scream the loudest about parking spaces and traffic whether pedestrians deserve to live.
Prioritizing moving large volumes of cars at high speeds and preserving on street parking should not be placed above people’s lives, yet this is the current reality for local and state transportation planning agencies.
FDOT and MetroPlan claim to care about safety, yet continue to widen roads and expand highways without hesitation, promoting a car centric transportation system that is unsustainable, unsafe, and unhealthy for us all.
We need a comprehensive redesign of our entire street system, placing safety first.
Orange County’s proposed transportation sales tax is one potential funding source for pedestrian and cyclist safety improvements, as well as the new USDOT Safe Streets and Roads for All grant from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.
We need an entire cultural shift and we need leaders to work together at every level of government to save the lives of our loved ones. The disregard for the lives of our loved ones walking and biking cannot continue. This casual complacency is numbing.
We must not continue to place the sole responsibility on pedestrians to avoid death and serious injury. Drivers must also do their part by slowing down and yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks, and road engineers must design safer streets with ample crossing opportunities and slower design speed.
We need a new way of thinking to save lives and promote healthier and more sustainable transportation options, because the old way is not working.