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Engineering’s important role in designing safer streets

What we are facing……

The number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roadways is at a 25-year high.  In Florida, pedestrian deaths rose 40% between 2009 and 2016. Implementing comprehensive changes that comprise the 3 E’s of Engineering, Education and Enforcement of the law will be pivotal in decreasing pedestrian fatalities and injuries on our streets.

When it comes to the increase in collisions, outside factors such as cell phone distractions and alcohol consumption are usually blamed. While each are valid factors, we can’t forget one important piece of the puzzle: engineering.

What role does Engineering play?

It’s easy to wonder how Florida got itself into this situation. According to DeWayne Carver, Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Complete Streets Program Manager, the old goal was simple: build roads that will move as many cars as possible. In recent years, however, safety for all road users, especially those without 2 tons of steel to protect them, has become the priority.

“Engineering is a proven way to improve safety outcomes,” said Richard Retting in a recent article about the GHSA report that he wrote. By making changes to speed limits, adding lighting and reconstructing intersections, engineers can make walking safer. The Best Foot Forward coalition works with the engineering teams in Orange County, Orlando, Osceola County, Kissimmee and St. Cloud to identify low-cost engineering improvements (such as painting and signage) that can enhance crosswalk safety. That, combined with enforcement and education, is making change in Central Florida.

Is there a guideline in place? 

Yes – after months of workshops and planning, FDOT published Florida’s Complete Streets Implementation Plan in December 2015. The plan ensures that future transportation decisions and investments address the needs of all road users, not just those behind the wheel. Their hard work paid off in 2017 when Smart Growth America commended the plan as one of the Best Complete Streets Initiatives.

FDOT recognized early in its program that to create the appropriate complete streets, there would need to be a more specific description of land use context, meaning that different areas require different strategies (think: rural areas vs. urban areas). Florida is among one of the first states to implement this important strategy. Now, when cities design or redesign roads, they have a guideline that helps ensure that every road user is factored into the equation.

Here’s to a future that provides safer streets and communities for everyone!

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