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Orlando Sentinel: Best Foot Forward working to reduce pedestrian deaths

Good Morning Winter Park BFF PresentationOrlando Sentinel

Michael W. Freeman

[email protected] or 407-420-5290

Amanda Day has a video she likes to present, showing a man doing something simple: crossing the street on Edgewater Drive in College Park.

It almost looks like a horror movie, Day noted.

The man in the video steps into the crosswalk and starts to walk across the street – and cars keep zooming right past him.

“This is a 40 mile per hour road,” Day said. “He is brave.”

The cars keep moving even though the law in Florida requires motorists to stop when a pedestrian steps into the crosswalk, she added, saying this trend has given the Orlando area an unwelcome distinction.

“We are the most dangerous place – the number one place in the country where more people die walking across the street,” said Day, the project director of Best Foot Forward, a two-year old community-wide coalition launched by Bike/Walk Central Florida, to explore options for promoting pedestrian safety.

“People say ‘Why is it when I go to Seattle, people stop, and in Orlando they don’t?’ “ she said. “A lot of it is the psychology here. We follow what the other cars are doing.”

On Friday, Day was the guest speaker at Good Morning Winter Park, the program sponsored by the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. Day said Best Foot Forward’s goal is to improve walkability and pedestrian safety in a region where a lot of the local roads are simply not conducive to either one.

“We have, along with the Department of Transportation, a big challenge ahead of us,” she said, adding that the video made at Edgewater Drive, using a volunteer who agreed to cross the street several times – is a good example of what the problem is. She noted that when the volunteer raised his hand to signal to the cars that he wanted to cross, the motorists continued speeding right past him.

“If you saw someone going like this,” Day said as she raised her hand, “what would you think? You’d think the man is crazy, right? Well, it’s tragic, actually. The cars have time to stop, and don’t. Edgewater Drive should be a main street that you can cross. And there’s not a silver bullet to fix all of this.”

A big part of the problem, she added, is the way local roads were designed.

“Our roads in the state of Florida were built right after World War II,” she said. “The whole idea of walking and biking were not even a factor in the design. A lot of it is by careless design.”

The other challenge, she said, is overly aggressive drivers and similarly assertive pedestrians who demonstrate little to no respect for one another.

“What we hear about is ‘No, it’s them – it’s those tourists, and we are perfect,’ “ Day said. “Wrong. It’s the people who are local who are getting hit and we have cars driven by locals who are hitting them.”

There is a $164 citation for failing to obey the Driver Yield Law in Florida, but a lot of motorists either don’t know that, or think they won’t get caught, she said.

“This is where most of the fatalities occur – in a marked crosswalk,” she said. “A lot of times when a car is approaching a crosswalk, they don’t stop –and that is illegal in Florida.”

Day noted that Best Foot Forward is trying to educate area residents.

“We do a lot of community outreach to HOAs and other groups, and we train school crossing guards,” she said. “We are also looking for speakers to help us keep this issue alive – because we want to stay alive.”

To learn more, visit http://www.iyield4peds.org/.

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