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Transportation Planners Work To Improve Walking Conditions

Statistically, you’re more likely to be involved in a traffic crash in the summertime. This summer in Northwest Florida was no exception, which also meant a greater risk of injury or fatality involving pedestrians and cyclists.

This is a growing problem that transportation planners in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are working to address with a range of projects aimed at making local roadways safer for everyone.

The Florida Panhandle has seen a handful of pedestrian-related vehicle crashes this summer.

There was one in June that resulted in the death of a toddler in Walton County.

On July 11, a person was struck and killed by a vehicle while walking along Highway 98 on Okaloosa Island.

Two days later, another pedestrian was struck and killed on U.S. 90 in Santa Rosa County.

On July 20, a pedestrian fatality was reported on Pace Boulevard in Escambia County. It is Escambia which sees the overwhelming majority of these types of crashes.

“Every project that we’re doing here at the county is being thoughtful of every person,” said Escambia County Transportation Engineer Christine Fanchi. “That could be someone who is walking to school or those who bike to work. Fortunately, I see a lot of bikes, but unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of infrastructure to support those bikes.”

Fanchi and other transportation planners from Escambia and Santa Rosa County are working with the Florida Department of Transportation to coordinate road safety projects throughout the region.

Escambia County sees the majority of pedestrian fatalities in the region
Sandra Averhart
This is what's left of a makeshift memorial for a 28 year-old-woman and an 8 month-old baby who were killed in a June 2018 hit and run as they walked along Cervantes and M streets.

The big areas of focus for local government are engineering, enforcement, education,
engagement, and evaluation. The state has also adopted a Vision Zero policy, which aims to achieve zero traffic fatalities from pedestrians and bicyclists in the state.

“Statewide, we have a very in-depth focus when it comes to protecting the vulnerable road users on our system,” said FDOT spokesperson Ian Satter.

Satter says their efforts can be as simple as restriping roads and narrowing lanes, while others are more complex.

“As we look at projects, such as widening and resurfacing, we look at ways that we can improve pedestrian and bicycle facilities along those corridors to make them more safe,” he added.

Some of the more significant safety projects in the region include a multi-use trail master plan on Highway 90 in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties; a road resurfacing project on North Pace Boulevard in Pensacola, and lighting improvements along Cervantes Street in Pensacola.

According to Satter, the Department of Transportation regularly reviews traffic data from across the region to determine where to concentrate their efforts, with a focus on pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“We’re studying a lot of different roadways to see what kind of improvements can be made,” said Satter. “We look at all factors on the roadway and how we can improve safety and reduce congestion along those corridors.”

In the past, county road engineers and planners forged ahead with their traffic studies and safety plans without engaging the community to assess their infrastructure needs. Fanchi says that today, they work alongside the community to determine what needs to be done.

“I really believe that the whole community needs to be part of the solution,” she said. “Every single project that we do, we need to engage with the leadership or neighbors in that corridor and let them have a voice to see what their needs are in their neighborhood. Our leadership in the county is very engaged in that and understands what the needs are.”

The Northwest Florida region is also a part of numerous outreach programs aimed at stopping pedestrian and cyclist traffic crashes from happening in the future. Santa Rosa County Transportation Planner Zakkiyyah Osuigwe believes public awareness is the first step.

“A lot of times people don’t know what the rules of the road are,” said Osuigwe. “We try to educate people through our Community Traffic Safety Team, which is a collaboration of professionals and citizens in Santa Rosa and Escambia County who are safety advocates.”

Among other things, free bicycle helmets have been donated to the community as part of this safety initiative. Many of the helmets are handed out during National Night Out, a community police awareness event held every August.

“A young lady told me that at one of our prior events her son received a helmet from us,” said Osuigwe. “He was in an accident and had his helmet on, so she told us how it saved his life. It’s the little things like that that make it all worthwhile.”

Regardless of state and local efforts, pedestrians and bicyclists can take preventative measures to keep themselves safe. Oseguiwe says simply being aware of your surroundings can make a huge difference.

“I believe that every citizen, every mom, every dad, every kid is responsible for safety,” she said. “The main way to prevent these fatalities and serious injuries is changing our behavior. In whatever capacity, being responsible, safe and aware can prevent fatalities and serious injuries.”

This story is part of an ongoing series. If you or someone you know has been involved in a pedestrian or bicyclist vehicle crash, email hunter@wuwf.org to share your story.

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