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Change Makers

WATCH: BWCF Executive Director Sits Down With Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla

Bike/Walk Central Florida’s Executive Director, Emily Hanna, sat down with Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla (text shown in bold) on her podcast “Emily Tells All” to discuss BWCF’s efforts within the community. The transcript that follows has been edited only for clarity. 

UPDATE: 7/14/22 – Transcript updated to reflect the 2022 Dangerous By Design Report released in July 2022. 

My next guest, Emily Hanna, is the executive director of Bike/Walk Central Florida, a nonprofit organization that advocates for bicycle and pedestrian safety, infrastructure and policy. She’s here to share how the organization is working to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in our community.

– Hi Emily, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you, Emily, thank you for having me.

– Tell us about yourself and your organization.

Thank you, Emily, for having me.

I am the executive director of Bike/Walk Central Florida. Bike/Walk advocates for pedestrian safety in policy and infrastructure

to make sure that people are comfortable riding their bike

or walking on the streets of our community.

– How does your organization work with residents of Orange County in relation to pedestrian and bike safety?

Great question! We have a couple of different programs, one of which I hope you and your listeners have heard of before: the Best Foot Forward Pedestrian Safety Program. We work with the law enforcement officers of our Sheriff’s Department, educators, and traffic engineers to tackle the three Es to improve the driver yield rate at crosswalks.

  • Enforcement
  • Education
  • Engineering

The thought behind the Best Foot Forward program is that if we make drivers more aware of crosswalks and make them safer for people to cross, more people will likely use crosswalks. 

Secondly, we have a bicycle program. It’s an event we host every year during Mobility Week, a week that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) highlights other modes of transportation like scooters, bikes, walking, or transit. Our event, Bike 5 Cities, is a 28-mile advocacy ride that links five cities in our Central Florida community. The goal is to show people they can get to different places, not just via trails but also through more comfortable neighborhood streets and other connections. 

– What cities are those?

Those cities are Orlando, Eatonville, Maitland,

Casselberry and Winter Park.

– All right, so the programs that you’re offering

mentioned teaching residents to learn to be more aware. We also have laws that force people to be aware.

Yes, we do. So in the state of Florida, we have a driver yield law,

which essentially states that in a marked or even unmarked crosswalk where two roads intersect, it is legal for people to cross the road. Regardless of whether the crosswalks are striped, drivers have to yield their right of way; they have to let the pedestrian go first. Often we don’t know as drivers that that’s a law. 

When we start driving at 16 and get our driver’s license, crosswalk knowledge is not one of the things that we test. We usually just ask drivers to understand the different signs and striping and to understand driving the vehicle in general. But this law requires you to yield and allow pedestrians and/or cyclists to cross the road. So if you don’t stop or yield to a pedestrian and violate the law, it could be a $164 fine and three points on your license.

We really want drivers to be aware that it is not only safe and courteous for you to do that for your community members or kids trying to go to school, but ultimately it’s also the law. So they need to obey the law when they’re driving a vehicle.

– What should residents know that they should be doing?

They should be checking the sides of the roads, especially at crossing locations where there might be schools or parks or trails where you know you’re going to have many people moving around that area.

Always check the sides of the road before you continue through an intersection or before you continue through a crosswalk.

Oftentimes we drive a little bit faster than that posted speed limit. When we drive fast, sometimes we don’t see what’s on our periphery, what’s on the outside of our vehicle. We’re in our bubble, right; in our vehicle, just listening to music, bobbing along as we go, but we need to be paying attention to what’s outside of our car so that we can stop and hopefully avoid a severe injury or fatality that we don’t need. We don’t need to add any more of those to our roadways.

. . .

I drive a big lifted black truck with giant mirrors, and I am very cognizant when I come to any type of intersection that that person could probably stand behind my mirror, and I wouldn’t even know. So I’m always checking to make sure that there’s no one around me because my larger vehicle if it struck someone, could seriously injure or kill someone, probably going much slower than, say, a smaller car might.

So I, just try to be aware, and being in this industry, am very, very aware

of my surroundings and always drive the speed limit too. As we know speed does kill.

– I always tell my husband and my son…you can’t just drive for yourself, you need to drive for other people too because they’re not going to follow the rules.

Exactly. Some people don’t follow the rules, and there are times when you might be driving through a portion of a roadway that has some side streets that connect to it. There might not be a striped crosswalk,

but that’s a legal crossing for pedestrians. So they’re not jaywalking, as many people might believe; they’re actually just trying to get to the other side of the road and have every legal right to do so. We, as drivers,

don’t necessarily give pedestrians that ability to cross. 

Often, the way we build our roadways can also contribute to this. For example, we make pedestrians go a thousand feet to the next signal to get across the street when they could have just crossed the road naturally. Engineering and where we put those crosswalks play a big part in safety in our community.

– Yeah, they definitely do. I noticed in the Dangerous by Design Report,

most of the pedestrian crashes are on state roads.

They’re kind of a mix. Crashes occur on state, county, and city roads. So it really just depends, and it’s a combination of two different things.

The first is the design of the road. Often traffic engineers design the roadway to accommodate higher speeds because they want to have some buffer if there were to be a crash on that road. But we’re seeing that when we design a road with a higher speed limit, we all are very intuitive to what the road is telling us. So if the speed limit is posted at 40 miles an hour, the road is built to accommodate drivers going faster than that. For instance, State Road 436 or State Road 50. So we have to do a better job

of designing our roadways for that.

The second contribution to pedestrian crashes is knowing what the land use is and what’s around context-wise. If you have an apartment on one side of the road, and you have a bus stop on the other, naturally, people are going to want to cross the road to get to the bus stop, a grocery store, or a convenience store. We have to provide that safe infrastructure for them to get across the road because they’re going to do it on their own.

Unless we make more drivers aware of these laws and challenges, we will continue to have severe injuries and fatalities.

– Yeah, like add a crosswalk there.

Exactly, add a crosswalk, put some lights up, it is the little engineering improvements that we make that are going to save lives. We need

to put our “best foot forward.” Pun intended. 

– That was one improvement I had done on Aloma. There was a place where people crossed frequently, which was dangerous. There may have been a couple of accidents, so I worked with the state to get a crosswalk.

The rectangular rapid flashing beacons that you got installed

at that intersection is a great example of that. You had a lower-income community on the one side of Aloma, and then you had a convenience store, some other grocery stores, and other types of stores on the other side. People will not walk all the way down to 436 or Forsyth to cross that. They’re going to go where they need to naturally, unfortunately taking their life into their hands to do so. So thank you for noticing that, doing that, and putting your best foot forward to improve pedestrian safety.

– But we need to do more of that, especially if there’s a bus stop on the other side. I’ve noticed people get off buses and then just cross in the middle, cross right there. And I just noticed that recently actually, and I was thinking, why is there even a bus stop there, not near the intersection where they could safely cross? So we have to think about that too.

Many times, when roadways are built, thinking about land use or bus stops comes after the fact. It’s vital to have a continual dialogue

between what planners are doing, what our development community is building, and where and how we need to move people around. It’s just a continual conversation that we need to have.

On the Dangerous by Design point, we are still high on that list, [ranked the second most dangerous state and eighth most dangerous metro area in 2022], and it’s not a position we want to be in. We definitely want to get off that list. We were the most improved in 2021 when the report came out [and we improved our rank by seven positions in 2022.]

– I’m think it must have been really, really bad because we’re still [near] the top…but we improved. So at least that’s a step in the right direction.

We’re heading in the right direction. However, it’s important for your viewers and listeners to understand that it took us 50 years, if not more, to build the built environment they see today. We’re not going to be able to change the built environment that we’ve designed with just enforcement and just education. We also have to do the engineering, and that takes time. It’s going to take us time to kind of build our way out

of that position.

The small incremental changes that we’re making are making an impact. So hopefully, in the next few years, we’ll come off the top of that list and have other things we can celebrate, like our community being much safer to walk and bike and roll around.

– We’re learning as we go too. Before we started recording,

we were talking about the brick crosswalks and how we thought that was a great idea until we learned that it’s not working out for everyone.

Exactly, so to tell your listeners what we were talking about, we were in a crosswalk with a wheelchair. This crosswalk was made with brick making it more visible for motorists. Vehicles could see that as a crosswalk, that people will be there, so they’re going to stop further back and pay attention. However, when we were in the wheelchair, one of the bricks had chipped, and the wheelchair got stuck. We only had a few seconds left to continue crossing 17-92, which was like seven lanes wide. Halfway through the intersection, we had five seconds left, which was scary. Because we were testing the design, we could physically stand up and remove the wheelchair from that crosswalk. But what if it was someone who has a disability? They couldn’t get up and do that.

So we learned really quickly that crosswalks may not be the best use for bricks. Maybe we should band that crosswalk instead, or put the brick pattern on the outside of that to mark it and still maintain a smooth surface so those who are disabled or are blind can get smoothly

from one side of the road to the other.

– So we’re learning as we go with improvements that we think are working, but then we’re finding out that there’s another issue, and it’s trial and error.

It is absolutely trial and error. And one of the things we do with the Best Foot Forward Program encourages what other partners in our region might be doing. So, for example, Osceola County put a stop bar, a painted white line on the ground, in front of a rapid flashing beacon. Before the change, the RRFB didn’t get great yield rates. Cars weren’t paying attention to it. So by putting a stop bar there, we increased the yield rate by 19%—just a strip of white paint on the ground. 

We were able to take data and share that with Orange County, the city of Orlando, Seminole County, and all the cities that are a part of the Best Foot Forward Program. And now, adding a stop bar is a standard that many communities have adopted. It helps to tell cars where to stop if they see a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Sometimes we stop in the crosswalk, not necessarily stopping back to allow pedestrians to cross safely. So that is something that we are learning.

Sometimes it’s hard too. You have to pull out into the crosswalk just for you to see. So it’s a safety perspective for you as a driver as well. But the state law says you must stop before the crosswalk before rolling into

that crosswalk to make that right or left hand turn safely.

– Are there any programs or activities

that residents could get involved with?

– If anybody is passionate about pedestrian safety, they should reach out to us. We could always use people to help share our message. We try to go out to community events, HOAs, to schools and try to teach everybody about the driver yield law and driver and pedestrian safety in general. So we can always use all the people we can get.

We are also certified helmet fitters. So when we go to any cycling event, we can fit helmets on kids or adults, so it properly fits. Often, you’ll find kids that ride around with their helmets way back on their heads with their whole forehead exposed. Many of the critical components of your brain are in the front of your head. So we always want to ensure that when you wear a helmet when you ride your bike, it fits properly. We can train people how to fit helmets as well. If you’re interested in being a certified helmet fitter, then contact us.

– Is there anything else you’d like to share with our viewers?

The only thing that I would probably add is a little of the dialogue we were having earlier regarding having respect for your community. You know, you might drive the speed limit in your neighborhood, but you might not drive the speed limit in someone else’s neighborhood. Someone’s grandmother lives there. Someone’s kid is getting ready to go to school. So you should always be aware of your surroundings and be respectful of those who walk and bike for transportation and recreation. Everybody deserves a place where they can safely and comfortably walk and bike in their community. And that’s all we’re trying to achieve.

– Are there any resources people can use to learn more about the organization or the topic?

Yes, absolutely! They can check out our website. It’s www.BikeWalkCentralFlorida.org. We have lots of great information and other resources, like things they can do at schools, for example.

In addition, we also have the first-ever regional trail map on our website.

This regional trail map connects all the Central Florida cities, counties, and their signature trails into one map. So you can see where all those trails go and what’s being planned for the future. So you can see how you can go from one place to another and we’re planning to connect existing trails. I highly recommend that your constituents check it out and give us any feedback they may have. Ultimately, if there’s something that’s missing or something we need to update, let us know, and we will be happy to share!

– Well, thank you so much!

Thank you.

– I guess our viewers had an extra special segment

where they had two Emilys telling all! [laughs] So, thank you for joining me, and telling all on bike and pedestrian safety.

Thank you, Emily.

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