Pedestrian Safety, as Brought to You By Florida DOT and NASCAR

You wouldn’t necessarily expect NASCAR, the very embodiment of the macho fast-car fetish in America, to go to bat for pedestrians. But in preparation for yesterday’s “Super Bowl of stock car racing,” the Daytona 500, NASCAR teamed up with the Florida Department of Transportation to help promote pedestrian safety around the event.

The Florida State Highway Patrol did extra enforcement for both pedestrians and motorists at the Daytona 500 this weekend. Image: CFNews13

But how deep is NASCAR’s commitment to pedestrian safety — or FDOT’s, for that matter?

Florida is the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians, according to an analysis by Transportation for America [PDF]. FDOT Secretary Anath Prasad told the local media that the agency is working hard to change that.

“We have doubled our efforts in making sure that we turn around those statistics,” he said. “It is unacceptable in our great state.”

Part of that campaign was the plan to step up enforcement for both pedestrians and motorists around the NASCAR event, which was expected to bring some 250,000 people to the area Sunday. FDOT even sponsored a car, driven by Joe Nemechek, emblazoned with the words “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow,” a slogan used in the FDOT educational campaign to reduce pedestrian deaths.

As part of the campaign, FDOT dispensed some basic, common-sense advice to drivers and pedestrians and said it was seeking improvements to “engineering, enforcement and emergency response.”

We’re glad to hear Florida at least making a verbal commitment to address the grievous problem of pedestrian deaths. But we’d like to see the state get more serious about the engineering portion of this campaign — which would mean not building intersections that look like this.

And while we’re talking enforcement, it’d also be nice if Prasad — who, after recently being ticketed for speeding, raised the speed limit on the very street where he was caught — would practice what he preaches. There is a culture of disrespect to pedestrians in the Sunshine State that seems to pervade all walks of life, from the DOT secretary to the police to average drivers.

If FDOT’s “education campaign” amounts to nothing more than ticketing a few pedestrians — classic victim-blaming — it could, in fact, worsen the structural inequality that makes those on foot so vulnerable.

Instead of an educational campaign about the importance of using crosswalks, how about a few more actual crosswalks, and shorter ones, with pedestrian refuge islands? I think they’d be happy to have them in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood. That would be real progress for Florida pedestrians. Would FDOT get behind that?

NASCAR has other problems. Dozens of spectators were injured at Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, the latest incident in which fans have been harmed as the result of a crash.