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People On Foot

Orlando Sentinel: Orlando adding many sidewalks

Orlando Sentinel sidewalksOrlando residents can expect to see more than 22 miles of new sidewalks along city streets as part of a push to make life safer in an area often described as the most dangerous for pedestrians in the United States.

The City Council is expected to approve a winning $3.1 million bid Monday by local company Schuller Contractors Inc. for the construction of the new sidewalks, which are being paid for with federal money.

Cassandra Lafser, a spokeswoman for Mayor Buddy Dyer, said the sites were selected based on proximity to schools, parks, bus routes, retail and SunRail stations.

The first phase of the project, which wrapped up in 2013, saw installation of 17 miles of new sidewalks.

Construction on the second phase is expected to begin by the end of spring and continue into late 2016. College Park, Colonialtown, Lake Como and Dover Shores are among the areas getting new sidewalks.

Many of the new walkways will be built in Commissioner Patty Sheehan’s district, which includes residential areas surrounding downtown Orlando where sidewalks stop and start without warning along some roads.

Sheehan’s first year in office was marred by protests after she proposed sidewalks for several roads near Audubon Park Elementary in 2001. The issue divided Audubon Park, where many argued there was no need for the sidewalks. A community forum drew hundreds, some carrying “No Sidewalks” signs.

This time, Sheehan said, her constituents seem supportive of the plans.

“For the most part, I think that people realize the sidewalks are a good thing,” Sheehan said.

Eliza Harris, a board member for Bike/Walk Central Florida, said sidewalks are a “great move in the right direction” for Orlando’s older streets, some of which lack safety protections because they predate modern-day driving hazards.

And Tyrone Smith, a senior planning and government-relations administrator for Orange County Public Schools, said sidewalks improve student safety and encourage parents to let their children walk to school — which is good exercise and cuts down on long pickup and drop-off lines, he said.

Greater Orlando, which includes several cities and much of the region, consistently ranks among the most perilous places to walk in the country. A nonprofit coalition that studies pedestrian fatality rates labeled Orlando the most dangerous metro area in 2011 and again last year.

According to Orlando police, eight pedestrians were killed just on the city’s streets last year, ranging in age from 25 to 67. Three more have died this year, though one of those deaths was ruled a suicide, police said.

Officials have made efforts to improve conditions for pedestrians, such as the “Best Foot Forward” program launched in 2012, which involved enhancing crosswalks and citing drivers who fail to yield.

In a recent interview, Dyer also drew attention to the city’s “complete streets” policies, which mandate that walkers and bicyclists be treated as equals to automobile traffic in road designs.

Said Dyer: “We are trying to change both pedestrian and motorist behavior.”

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