Orlando police focus efforts on pedestrian safety
On Nov. 24, the city of Orlando announced the approval of a $40,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to “cut down on the number of accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.”
In the announcement, the city explained that the grant will “be used toward on-street education and enforcement operations to target unsafe behaviors of all road users, including motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.”
According to a 2011 study conducted by Transportation for America, Metropolitan Orlando ranks No. 1 in the United States in pedestrian deaths and injuries, and has for more than 10 years. The recent grant is part of an effort by law enforcement, government and traffic engineers to make Orlando safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Sgt. Jeffrey Blye of the Orlando Police Department said that the grant funds overtime pay for Special Operations police officers to conduct pedestrian safety details after their normal shifts.
“Sometimes they conduct a plainclothes decoy detail, where an officer will dress in plainclothes and act as a pedestrian entering the crosswalk, [with] uniformed officers down the street,” Blye said. “If the vehicles don’t yield, they’re stopped down the road by the officers who explain the law, the violation and how much it would cost — $164 in Orange County — and given a pamphlet with information on pedestrian safety.”
Since Dec. 3, officers on these details have spoken with 264 pedestrians, 19 bicyclists and 87 motorists concerning safe behavior when walking, cycling and driving. The details were conducted at nine locations in Orlando that were determined to have the highest rates of accidents involving pedestrians. The closest of these areas to UCF, Colonial Drive between Interstate 4 and Bennett Road, is 11 miles away.
UCF spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said that the UCF police were not included in the $40,000 Florida Department of Transportation grant.
“Pedestrian safety and jaywalking are part of our normal patrols, but we haven’t had any recent patrols specifically for pedestrian safety,” Gilmartin said.
Although the UCF Police Department keeps records of accident reports, it doesn’t analyze them for information about pedestrian or bicyclist involvement. As a result, their annual traffic report has no information on the issue.
Jennifer Horton, a public information officer at the Florida Department of Transportation said that it doesn't keep track of crash records and that it's the responsibility of the individual law enforcement agency to keep track of those records.
Jason Donnelly, a junior nursing major who was struck by cars at two different intersections near campus, said that UCF PD and other police departments could be doing more to improve pedestrian safety on and around the campus. The locations of both alleged incidents are within the UCF PD’s jurisdiction.
“The UCF Police Department should be strict about writing tickets for incomplete stops at red lights and stop signs,” Donnelly said. “The extra second that it would take to stop completely is the extra second that could save a pedestrian on the right side of the car.”
Donnelly said that his first collision with a car occurred in April of 2014 at the intersection of Alafaya Trail and College Knight Court at the entrance to The Pointe at Central. As Donnelly crossed the intersection on his skateboard, a driver turning right onto Alafaya accelerated through the crosswalk and struck him, he said.
The second incident occurred in July 2015 at the intersection of University Blvd. and Turbine Drive near Kyoto Sushi & Grill. He said he was hit by a driver turning right who failed to look for, or yield, to pedestrians crossing the intersection from his right.
“I’d say nearly all the accidents I hear about occur in crosswalks with drivers turning right,” said Leland Carlson, a junior English literature major.
Carlson fixes bicycles as part of the Student Union’s bike repair program and has helped several student bicyclists after their collisions with cars.
Sean Lamphier, a junior nursing major, was hit by a car while bicycling past the entrance to The Pointe at Central.
“There was a car pulling out as I approached the crosswalk, so I slowed down,” Lamphier said. “I figured the car was going to pull out, so when she stopped, I figured she had seen me and was letting me go — so I went. As soon as I was in front of her car, she proceeded to pull out onto Alafaya and hit me. I was thrown off the bike and onto the road.”
Lamphier’s bike was crushed and mangled by the incident.
“I was grateful,” he said. “If I hadn’t been thrown off the bike I would have been pinned under her car, and it could have been much worse.”
According to an Orange County study, 259 pedestrians and cyclists have been hit by cars in the UCF area between 2006 and 2015, resulting in 11 deaths. These issues plague the region and the state as well. The pedestrian fatality rate in Florida is higher than that of any state, according to a 2003 study conducted by the University of Florida.
The Transportation for America study points to Central Florida’s road design as the major culprit. Orlando’s fastest phase of population growth occurred from the 1950s through the 1980s, when cars were the primary form of transportation. Accordingly, the roads in Central Florida are designed to move a high volume of cars as quickly as possible.
Several areas of the UCF campus are difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate, such as the portion of Gemini Boulevard by the Arboretum that has no sidewalk, the intersection of Gemini and Centaurus Boulevard, that has no pedestrian signals and only one crosswalk instead of four, and the intersection of Gemini and Alafaya Trail, which has a bike lane to the right of the right-turning lane that creates a conflict between bicyclists and motorists. When the light turns green, bicyclists have the right of way to go straight, while cars have the right of way to turn right through the bike lane. This makes the intersection especially dangerous for cyclists.
Since Orange County officials began initiatives to reduce accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists, the driver yield rates on roads with speed limits at 35 mph or slower climbed from 12 percent to 48 percent. On roads with limits of 40 mph or higher, such as Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard, those rates grew from 1.2 percent to 5 percent.
“Put down distractions and be alert, know the rules and follow them,” Blye said. “Distracted driving is a big part of these sorts of problems, especially on a college campus.”
Blye said that drivers are required by law to yield to pedestrians that are lawfully crossing the street at crosswalks. However, if a pedestrian doesn’t have a walk signal, the law says they must yield to oncoming traffic.
“Driver[s] don’t always think to look to their right because pedestrians [don’t] present a threat to them,” Donnelly said. “I never go in front of cars anymore because I don’t trust them.”
Alex Storer is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.