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Chatting with FDOT District Secretary and BWCF Chair Billy Hattaway: Complete Streets & More

billy-hattawayI, BFFer Katy Magruder, had the good fortune to talk with FDOT District Secretary and BWCF Chair Billy Hattaway about complete streets and what FDOT’s adoption of the policy and what this may mean for us.

Imagine a two-way Orange Avenue, lined with buffered bike lanes. Covered LYNX bus stops every quarter mile and trees to shade the 10-ft. wide sidewalks where local restaurants, retailers, and businesses thrive. This is the world of livable streets, aka complete streets – designed for people of all ages and abilities the freedom to travel by foot, bike, bus, rail or car. This may soon be a reality.

Walkability, complete streets, and active transportation are all part of the movement to ensure roads are designed for all road users. USDOT jumped on board with the recent announcement of expanding their pedestrian and bike safety initiatives, with a focus on improving policy and street designs.

In Florida, the man leading this charge is Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 1 Secretary and Bike/Walk Central Florida Board Chair, Billy Hattaway. With more than 35 years of transportation experience, Hattaway has been a long- time proponent for complete streets declaring it as long overdue in Florida. According to Hattaway, FDOT is moving away from a one-size fits all approach to designing roads, recognizing that this approach is partly responsible for Florida’s designation as the deadliest state for pedestrians and cyclists.

So how does FDOT define complete streets? Well, FDOT states it is a policy as one “that promotes safety, quality of life, and economic development in Florida.” To implement this policy, “the Department [FDOT] will routinely plan, design, construct, reconstruct and operate a context-sensitive system of “Complete Streets.” The latter portion of this policy is the key to a functioning system of complete streets: context–sensitive design. Context-sensitive designs are planned not only for physical features serving a specific transportation objective, but also considers the adjacent land development patterns and the  effects on the social, economic, aesthetic, and environmental values and needs of the existing community. FDOT has recognized the need and plans to work closely with local governments to ensure the street design and land development patterns are compatible. Therefore, a street in a compact urban downtown will be designed differently than once in a more suburban context.

As an example, Hattaway referred to the City of Sanford. This friendly city boasts a beautiful, walkable downtown offering vistas of the picturesque Lake Monroe. With a variety of housing options, retail and restaurant spaces, prominently displayed cultural and civic buildings, and industrial uses, downtown Sanford has created walkable urbanism.

In an attempt to mimic the economic vitality of the downtown, Sanford set their sights on a complete street along the U.S. 17-92 corridor as the southern entrance to the city, to create a new destination.  Although good intentions were in place in the community, after a thorough analysis from FDOT, the results revealed that correcting the street alone would not create revitalization.

South of Airport Blvd., U.S. 17-92 changes from a more densely gridded street network to conventional suburban sprawl – neighborhoods designed with cul-de-sac streets with only one entrance and exit to US 17-92. FDOT acknowledged that a change in zoning and land development regulations along this corridor is needed to bring pedestrian activity back to the street. If the adjacent land uses do not support higher levels of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, the provisions of complete streets become much less effective. Changes in zoning and land development regulations can take a long time between planning and council agencies. The future land-use map for Sanford does not show significant changes to the land development regulations or zoning.

FDOT is the agency charged to set the standard for road design in the Florida Plans Preparation Manual (PPM). “The Florida design and planning guidance documents are currently being modified to include complete street design elements,” said Hattaway. “The goal is to be complete by the fall of next year, and with extensive training shortly afterward.”

According to the 2011 Florida PPM, 4 feet minimum width bike lanes are to be provided on urban sections and 5 feet minimum bike lanes on rural sections. Hattaway specified that although that is the standard, the four to five foot lanes do not provide the comfort necessary to support wide spread use of those bike lane widths – discouraging some bicyclists from using the on-street bike lanes. The new standard adopted bike lane width is 7 feet with 6 feet being provided on corridors where the width for the 7 feet standard can’t be accommodated.  The PPM design manual has buffered bike lanes as the new standard, using two stripes for additional separation.

While the Florida PPM sets the design standard for state roads, according to Hattaway, it does not mean that complete streets are mandatory for cities and counties. The Complete Streets policy will provide encouragement – demonstrating the department’s commitment to improving opportunities for local governments to create economic development through improving mobility and safety for all users, and providing municipalities an example to follow. The partnership with the local government is essential to foster success in developing complete streets. Hattaway explained that FDOT’s project selection of complete street projects will be driven by the municipality’s commitment to create proper land development regulations to provide safe, comfortable streets that accommodate all road users

The City of Sanford saw this firsthand. Travelling on U.S. 17-92, one observes a sight similar to portions of Colonial Drive in Orlando: building setbacks of over 200 feet, strip malls with largely empty parking lots edging the street, and pedestrian infrastructure that is incomplete. Furthermore, the zoning map of Sanford shows that the U.S. 17-92 corridor is lined by big-box commercial and adjacent low density residential development. This is a case where the land-use pattern is not supportive of the implementation of a true complete street, and therefore FDOT did not approve it.

To complement the Complete Streets policy and improve pedestrian safety, FDOT will also be providing more mid-block crosswalks with appropriate traffic control devices, such as Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB) and High-intensity Activated Crosswalks (HAWK) that have lighting features to improve yielding behavior of motorists. Finally, the department is also working on significantly improving street lighting to illuminate intersections and other crosswalks, since lighting can play a significant role in visibility of pedestrians crossing corridors.

Billy Hattaway is the fearless leader in shifting the mindset of transportation planning statewide to focus on enhancing infrastructure for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Bike/Walk Central Florida is proud and thankful for this groundbreaking achievement.

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