Make our city more pedestrian-friendly
Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 22:08
Congratulations! You just started a new semester in the most dangerous pedestrian city in the United States.
Recently, Transportation for America released its yearly report on the most dangerous cities in the country for people to walk in. Orlando took the prize, followed by Tampa, Fla., Jacksonville, Fla., Miami and Riverside, Calif.
An astute reader might notice a commonality among the top four places on the list: They're all in Florida. So this begs the question: what makes Florida so special?
The study points out that it's not our large pool of retirees, as they only make up 22 percent of deaths. It's also not our tourism industry, which brings in roughly 52 million visitors to the area every year, as most deaths don't occur near tourist destinations. No, the real issue, the study says, is more deep-seated and insidious: Our roads are in dire need of upgrade.
And dire need is right. In the last decade, 47,700 pedestrians were killed, according to the study. That's the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers crashing every month.
Just look around next time you're driving in our city. There is a severe lack of bike lanes, sidewalks and public transportation. This, the study says, is the main source of Florida's dangerous streets.
The fact is that Orlando just wasn't designed for this kind of population. When Disney World first opened in 1971, the city was just a small town of 560,000, according to the University of Florida. In forty years, we've seen the population explode, shooting up to more than two million in 2009, not to mention the 52 million tourists that visit us every year, making it the 27th largest metro area in the country. With population growth like this, roads had to be built very quickly, cheaply and sadly, unsafely. So what can be done about this now?
The first thing, the according to the study, is use federal funding to make sure that streets are updated in safe and sustainable ways. This was done with great avail in New York City, which invested in low-cost upgrades, like more turning lanes and curb extensions. Pedestrian fatalities decreased across the board, from as little as 9 percent in some areas to as much as 60 percent in others. It is now one of the safest cities to walk in the country.
In Florida, however, we've taken the opposite track. When $2.4 billion of federal funds came into Florida to create a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, effectively getting more cars off the road, Gov. Rick Scott nixed the project. On top of this, instead of increasing spending on making safer streets, the legislature actually cut huge amounts of infrastructure spending last session.
Not all is lost, though. Mayor Buddy Dyer recently announced a $2 million investment that will create more sidewalks for the city, according to the Orlando Sentinel. This is a great start, but this amounts to roughly 18 miles of walkways, just a drop in the bucket of a massive problem that needs fixing, and fast.
As an avid biker and runner, it pains me to see my city, the City Beautiful, tainted by such terrible statistics. I'm proud of my city, and every day I wake up happy that I chose UCF as my university. But there's a serious problem here, and it's not being taken very seriously.