January 10, 2010 National study shows Tallahassee is dangerous for pedestrians By Jeff Burlew Senior Government Editor Tom Baxter knows firsthand how dangerous Tallahassee roads can be for pedestrians. Baxter, 63, walks downtown visiting various courts every work day as part of his job as a librarian for the Florida Attorney General's law library. Drivers have honked and yelled at him and one even ran into him as he was walking along the sidewalk on Duval Street a few years ago. He wasn't hurt, but he doesn't walk that stretch of Duval anymore. "It's the drivers - they don't pay attention," Baxter said. A recent national report points to another danger facing pedestrians in Tallahassee and across the U.S. - streets designed more for speeding cars than people on foot. The "Dangerous by Design" report, prepared by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and Transportation for America, found that Tallahassee pedestrians face almost double the risk of walkers in the U.S. as a whole. The Tallahassee metropolitan area, which comprises Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson and Wakulla counties, had a total of 14 pedestrian deaths and 284 pedestrian injuries over 2007 and 2008. The report gave the Tallahassee area a "pedestrian-danger index" of 109.4, more than twice the national number of 52.1. The index, a measure of the relative risk of walking, is calculated by dividing the average pedestrian fatality rate over the 2007 and 2008 by the percentage of residents who walk to work. Florida as a whole fared even worse in the report. The four most dangerous metropolitan areas for walkers in the U.S. are all in Florida. No. 1 was Orlando, followed by Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. The pedestrian-danger index for all of Florida was 167.3. Leon County Commission Chairman Bob Rackleff calls the dangers facing pedestrians "a slow-motion crisis." He said that while motorist fatalities have been steadily falling for the last three decades, pedestrian deaths have stayed the same or gone up. "And that's because of the neglect of pedestrian-safety programs and our failure to understand the real infrastructure needs," he said. "It's not just sidewalks. Sidewalks are obviously critical. But where we've failed utterly is in intersection designs." Rackleff points to Apalachee Parkway at Magnolia Drive as a prime example of a road that's almost impossible to cross safely. Walkers must cross six or more lanes of traffic to get to the other side. And while there are pedestrian "push buttons" to help walkers get across, there are no pedestrian refuges halfway across the intersection, which was recently redesigned by the Florida Department of Transportation. Rackleff said the city also needs more crosswalks in the middle of blocks in places such as North Monroe near Lake Ella. "We're very careless when it comes to accommodating pedestrians with intelligent infrastructure," Rackleff said. The "Dangerous by Design" report found that nationwide, less than 1.5 percent of money under the federal transportation law, called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, has gone toward pedestrian- and bicycle-safety projects. It also found that no state spends more than 5 percent of federal-transportation money on sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming and other amenities for cyclists and walkers. The report calls for more traffic-calming features, including pedestrian refuges, better road geometry and signals that give pedestrians a head start when crossing the street. It also calls for "Complete Street" designs featuring sidewalks, bike paths, comfortable bus stops and frequent crosswalks. Tallahassee is taking steps toward making streets friendlier for bikers and walkers. Blueprint 2000, a city/county partnership that's making road, greenway and other improvements through proceeds from a 1 percent sales tax, is including bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the road for all of its projects. Crosswalks are being built with pedestrian push buttons, said Dave Bright, Blueprint 2000 project manager. About 46 miles of bike lanes or sidewalks have been constructed or will be as part of Capital Circle widening. Stormwater ponds are being turned into parks with walking trails, and Cascade Park planned for downtown will have 2.3 miles of trails and sidewalks, he said. "I think we're doing all we can do" to accommodate walkers and bicyclists, Bright said. The city and county are receiving $1.8 million in federal stimulus money for sidewalks. And the county has applied for $40 million in federal grant money for sidewalks, Rackleff said. Steve Shafer, city engineer, said that the city has been focusing more and more on bike lanes, sidewalks and other amenities over the past couple of decades. The city has spent a couple of million dollars over the past few years to make sidewalks more accessible for people with disabilities. Some $4 million was spent on sidewalks and other improvements in the Bond community, and another $3 million will be spent for similar improvements in the Providence neighborhood. Shafer said the city is completing a study of West Tennessee Street to make it safer for pedestrians. That could mean closing the outer lanes to traffic during nighttime hours, though that would have to be approved by FDOT. He said the city is synchronizing signals on West Tennessee to slow down the flow of traffic. The city also recently spent $10,000 for a pedestrian crosswalk and island in midtown at Thomasville Road and Fifth Avenue. Tallahassee residents said inattentive drivers pose the biggest danger to walkers. John Plescow, a Tallahassee resident with visual impairment, said drivers are downright hostile to pedestrians. "I've been in the crosswalk with my white cane, and I've had cars pull through," said Plescow, who works for the Public Service Commission. "I've had people yell at me for being in the crosswalk even though I have the right of way. And then there are the general problems - not many sidewalks, roads with very small shoulders and ditches." Plescow said he's also concerned about StarMetro's planned decentralization program called Nova 2010, which he said will force people to cross major roads to catch buses. Michael Carlucci said he was almost run down Wednesday while crossing West Tennessee at Ocala Road. He said dangerous conditions for pedestrians are a symptom of a deeper problem. "Our lack of connection with each other, our community and our environment is far scarier to me," he said. "This fellow in his isolated metal box simply was not aware that there was anyone out there besides him." Check out the TABI resource web page at http://acorange.home.comcast.net/TABI and please make suggestions for new material. if you'd like to unsubscribe you can do so through the freelists.org web interface, or by sending an email to the address tabi-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject.