Declaring that Florida is not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said Tuesday that his department is changing its road design and engineering principals on the state's dangerous roads.
Prasad responded Tuesday to the Orlando Sentinel's three-part series "Blood In the Streets," which reported that Florida has a tragic, chronic problem with the worst pedestrian crash and death rates in the country, and Central Florida has the worst rates of any metropolitan area.
Prasad said the state must and will do more. He was joined by state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle calling for action after reading the series, which was published July 7, 10 and 21.
State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, on Tuesday called the Sentinel's findings "startling and unacceptable" and said they warrant legislative investigation and action.
State Rep. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said pedestrian safety is a long-standing problem that has not been on anybody's radar until now, and she vowed to push for money and awareness in Tallahassee.
Prasad defended his department's policies, which starting in 2011 put new focus on trying to rebuild or reconfigure streets to make them safer, and to work with other state and local agencies to push driver and pedestrian safety campaigns and police enforcement of driving and pedestrian laws.
Prasad said Gov. Rick Scott is "very much plugged in" for making pedestrian safety a top priority but said the problem will take many years to solve.
"We definitely have to increase what we are doing," Prasad said. "We need to revisit the things we are doing. Expecting to get a different answer by doing the same thing doesn't work."
Simmons said the numbers reflect tragedies that are "devastating to family and friends." He said he wants the Legislature to investigate the root causes and see if something can be done.
"The numbers you are showing in this series are startling," Simmons said. "And it certainly warrants an investigation and potential legislative action."
Prasad said his department is spending $4.5 million on safety awareness campaigns that include "Alert Today Alive Tomorrow" commercials, billboards and other advertising urging drivers and pedestrians to watch for each other.
The department also is pursuing or considering a variety of street design or rehab changes. They include:
Where practical, transferring state or federal highways to local control so that municipalities or counties can impose more urban, pedestrian-friendly improvements.
Installing more midblock crosswalks placed "where people are crossing." He cited such crosswalks on Orlando's International Drive.
Installing no-turn-on-red lights that would activate when someone pushes a crosswalk button.
Reconfiguring other streets so that pedestrians cannot cross in midblock. He cited Tennessee Avenue in Tallahassee, where the state is installing a decorative fence down the median to discourage jaywalking.
Prasad said targeting more money toward pedestrian improvements might push some transportation improvements back a year or so, but would not stop other priorities.
Stewart said the attention is a long time coming, saying she pushed for pedestrian and bicycle safety in 2002 when she first was elected to the Orange County Commission. She promised to push it again, in Tallahassee.
"The only way to get it [pedestrian safety] on people's radar is to talk about it, not just in Orlando but all over. Bring it up, keep it on the forefront, so that when bills are introduced they will look at it a little more seriously," Stewart said.
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