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People On Foot

OPINION: Please Choose the Crosswalk 

This article originally appeared on Douglas H. Henley II’s LinkedIn Page and represents his personal views and motivation to help transform Central Florida into a premier biking and walking community. 

 As a Board Member of Bike/Walk Central Florida, I present this piece not as an article but as a personal 874-word appeal to increase awareness.  

I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, in an area we affectionately called the West Side. It was a typical Northeast inner-city urban environment with a mixed-use of property that included corner stores, barber shops, row houses, and large tenement buildings. I walked everywhere, and I don’t remember if we had a crosswalk countdown signal, yet I was taught early on how to navigate crossing the street by using a crosswalk. My parents, my uncles, and aunts all critically stressed the need to wait and look for cars before crossing. Can this be an alternate definition for Street Smart?  

Today, I live in Central Florida in an area considered by national standards very unsafe for pedestrians. Every morning I witness people taking inconceivable risks as I drive to work. My daily path of travel is along Route 50, an east to west multilane thoroughfare full of lights, cars, pedestrians, and, yes, safe crosswalks.  

As I drive, I am confused and horrified when I see a pedestrian ready to cross in the middle of this busy road. When I slow down and pass that individual, I take note that it is just another 50 feet to the crosswalk. In my rear-view mirror, I can see him sometimes walking or other times quickly crossing the three lanes. Does he understand how fast a vehicle travels at 50 miles per hour?  

I want to pull over and ask, “Hey man, why would you cross there”?  I wonder if anyone shared with him how unsafe that is, I wonder if he understands that the crosswalk is in place for his safety. How do we get this message to those who walk, those who have to walk to get directly to services or public transportation? These individuals are chiefly urban dwellers, including men, women of all ages, and sometimes children.   

Although what if the pedestrian not choosing the crosswalk is in the suburb, what if that person is out for a morning walk for exercise? It really doesn’t matter to me, they should also cross a road safely at the crosswalk, as the same concern exists. There’s an African American proverb that says, “each one, teach one.” So maybe those of us that drive can take responsibility to encourage the person that we know who walks, no matter where they live and work, to walk safely and choose the crosswalk.   

Once this movement of care and concern takes hold and a wave of pedestrian Street Smarts is magically bestowed on a new cross-walking community, then drivers, you will have a second responsibility. The twist in this piece is that far too many drivers don’t yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Wait, what? Yes, this article began with a plea to pedestrians to cross safely but are you aware that areas like Central Florida lead the country in pedestrian deaths caused by drivers?  

In multiple years, the Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design report has named Metro Orlando, including Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, the most dangerous place in the country for pedestrians. Maybe this sad accolade has its roots in how pedestrians unsafely cross in the middle of the road, or maybe when they cross safely at a crosswalk, drivers don’t properly yield. Either way, we can take responsibility.   

My personal effort has been to join the Board of Bike/Walk Central Florida. In addition to various initiatives designed to support safety, the organization has managed a successful grassroots pedestrian safety program since 2012 called Best Foot Forward.  

Know that pedestrian safety isn’t a local issue; I’m not writing to solely you, the reader, about Central Florida. I am attempting to appeal to each of you. The following excerpt from the Best Foot Forward webpage is clear about the mission. 

“We all share the responsibility to keep our roadways safe. To save lives, we have to watch out for each other. On average in Central Florida, about 980 pedestrians are seriously injured and 90 people are killed each year trying to do something as simple and necessary as cross the street. Best Foot Forward is the largest grassroots coalition in the country aimed at reducing serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities through education, engineering, enforcement and evaluation. The success of the Best Foot Forward movement depends on every resident, neighborhood group and community coming together to change the culture of conflict between walkers and drivers.” 

I enjoy reading this as I can glean a call for the sense of urgency equaled by the need for personal responsibility.  An article from the Brookings Institute suggests that “personal responsibility is the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards.”   

I enjoy stepping up for the community’s good when there is a need to do so. Concerning pedestrian safety, I am looking forward to learning what you will do and what you have done to support this initiative to ensure those that have to walk and those that choose to walk are safe in our streets and roadways across our cities and towns. 

This article originally appeared on Douglas H. Henley II’s LinkedIn Page and represents his personal views and motivation to help transform Central Florida into a premier biking and walking community. 

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