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Posts from the "Florida" Category

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The Most Dangerous Places to Walk in America

Pedestrians are especially at risk on wide, fast arterial roads like this. Photo: Smart Growth America/Cheryl Cort

Walking should be the healthiest, most natural activity in the world. It is, after all, one of the first things humans learn to do.

But in far too many places, walking can be fatal, thanks to roads designed for speeding cars.

In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians lost their lives in traffic collisions in the U.S., and over the last decade, nearly 50,000 people have been killed while walking — that’s 16 times more Americans than were killed by natural disasters. Another 670,000 pedestrian were injured over that period, one every eight minutes.

Not all streets are equally dangerous. In a new update of its Dangerous by Design report [PDF], released today, Smart Growth America catalogs the most perilous places in the U.S. to walk. By looking at the places that are especially hazardous, we can determine the factors that are putting people at risk and figure out how to fix them.

Here’s a look at what America’s most dangerous streets for walking tend to have in common.

They’re in the Sunbelt

Don’t let the sunshine lull you into a sense of security. Sunbelt cities have hazardous streets.

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A Crosswalk Too Far: The Hunt for America’s Least Crossable Street

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Good luck walking to church on North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, if you happen to start on the other side of the street.

Last February, Streetsblog readers determined the worst intersection in America. Then you pinpointed a suburban area with streets so windy and disconnected, it would take a seven mile trip to travel between two houses that shared a back yard. And for two years running you’ve helped shame the nation’s most parking-scarred downtowns.

But there’s a special class of shame-worthy street we have yet to fully examine — and they haunt all corners of America. We’re talking about the street with an enticing destination on the other side, but no access, no crosswalk, no safe way to get across. A street that separates more than connects.

Put in this position, a rational person would just make a dash for it rather than walk as much as half a mile out of the way. But that decision can also put you in danger. And that’s the problem.

With some help from our readers and Twitter friends, we’ve put together a little collection of these divisive streets. Please share your own examples in the comments or send them to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

Cincinnati: MLK Boulevard at Vine Street

Here’s an unfortunate scenario in Cincinnati. A key stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard operates much like a moat. On one side of the street visitors to the University of Cincinnati stay at the Hampton Inn. Almost directly across the street is University Commons — a park area designed to be a “contemplative space.” Wouldn’t it be nice if visitors had access?

But to do that, they have to walk approximately a quarter mile out of the way:

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It’s Rochester vs. Jacksonville in the Parking Madness Championship!

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Forget Huskies vs. Wildcats — today is all about parking crater vs. parking crater.

Through 14 matches pitting some of the most hideous parking expanses in the world against each other, two cities are still standing: Rochester and Jacksonville.

These are the worst of the worst downtown asphalt scars. But only one city can claim the Golden Crater, and the teachable moment that comes with it. Now it’s up to Streetsblog readers to choose this year’s champion.

Let’s look at Rochester first:

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Parking Madness Final Four: Chicago vs. Jacksonville

We started with 16 parking craters and now we’re down to the Final Four of Parking Madness.

After two bruising rounds of competition, four hideous parking expanses in Kansas City, Rochester, Chicago, and Jacksonville are still in it to win it. Each one is an ugly and awe-inspiring waste of potential in its own way.

Today’s matchup for a shot at the championship pits Jacksonville against Chicago.

The contender from Florida is a riverfront travesty:

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Jacksonville has been a real force in this tournament, easily knocking off impressive entries from Calgary and Dallas. You can see there are a few very tall buildings in this area, but since it’s been mercilessly carved up by highways, parking has become the land use of choice.

Meanwhile, the Chicago site is a different kind of crater.

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Parking Madness Elite Eight Matchup: Dallas vs. Jacksonville

We’re on to round two of Parking Madness, our search for the worst parking crater in North America. And I have to say, the parking craters in this match do seem to have descended to a new level of horribleness.

Dallas and Jacksonville are both such overachieving parking cities, it’s almost a shame they meet so soon. But them’s the breaks. Let’s see which is worse. The winner of this match will go onto the final four competition for the Golden Crater.

First, here’s Dallas:

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We swapped out the picture we used in the last round for one that our readers assure us is more up to date. There has been a little bit of infill development since the last one was taken. But the area can’t attract unsubsidized private development, according to Patrick Kennedy of Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth, because it’s been so blighted by I-345, which you can see on right edge of the photo. Kennedy has been one of the loudest advocates for tearing down the freeway.

Now, let’s look at Jacksonville:

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Parking Madness: Calgary vs. Jacksonville

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Parking Madness has gone international. Today we welcome our first parking crater contender from outside the United States, as Canada’s third largest city faces off against the home of the Gator Bowl. It’s Calgary versus Jacksonville.

So, let’s see what our friends up north have to contribute to the proud American tradition of parking craters. Here’s Calgary:

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Pretty impressive! We don’t have much background on this entry, submitted by Dale Calkins, other than the parking crater’s obvious proximity to some of Calgary’s tallest buildings. Here’s the view of the area on Google Maps.

Can Jacksonville top that? America’s reputation is on the line here:

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Pedestrian Deaths Edge Down, Following Unexplained 3-Year Rise

After three years of rising pedestrian deaths in America, there’s some good news this week about the safety of people on foot.

Has pedestrian safety turned a corner? Photo: New York Times

To really turn the corner on pedestrian safety, roads like this need to be redesigned. Photo: New York Times

Pedestrian deaths fell 8.7 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period the previous year, according to a report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. That means about 190 fewer people were killed while walking in the first part of 2013.

The decline follows a three-year period in which pedestrian deaths rose 15 percent from an all-time low in 2009.

Experts aren’t sure what to make of the decline, just as they had trouble explaining the three-year increase that preceded it. Allan Williams, who completed the report, said the dip may be “an anomaly.”

GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole concurred, saying in a press release,  “the preliminary findings are good news, but it’s too soon to celebrate.”

The increasing prevalence of mobile devices and distracted driving was often cited as a potential factor in the rise in pedestrian fatalities. But driving fatalities fell 3 percent during the same period.

Now that there seems to be some improvement, some cautious, preliminary theories are being floated. One is that greater awareness of pedestrian safety has led to more street designs intended to making walking safer.

Mark Plotz, vice president of Project for Public Spaces, told USA Today he hoped that was the case, “but it’s too early to know.”

Some credit for the improvement may even belong to the state of Florida, which is the deadliest state for pedestrians per capita. Florida has been making some strides to remedy its horrible record; the state recorded a 23 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2013. Florida has been implementing reforms aimed at protecting pedestrians, including the hiring of two full-time pedestrian and cycling planners to help oversee design at each of its seven district offices, according to USA Today.

California, Texas, and Florida alone accounted for almost a third of the nation’s pedestrian fatalities in the first part of 2013, according to GHSA. Large states with lots of big cities tend to have the most pedestrian fatalities.

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UPDATED: Last Night’s Quiet Transit Victories

Yesterday was a relatively quiet election day for transportation-related ballot measures, but of the six transit initiatives that came before voters yesterday, five six passed, with a sixth seventh too close to call. That’s in line with last year’s 79 percent success rate — 71 percent since 2000. When asked, voters overwhelmingly choose to raise their own taxes to improve public transportation.

Spencer Township, Ohio, appears to have voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the TARTA regional transit system. Photo: Ability Center

There were no high-profile campaigns this year in major metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean this year’s ballot contests aren’t worthy of note. “I see a statement about the viability of both transit and these campaigns in smaller regions and rural places,” said Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Ohio: Let’s start with the most unsettling news: Residents of Spencer Township, Ohio, were asked whether they wanted to secede from the Toledo area’s transit agency, TARTA. It’s the exact same question they were asked last year, when they voted 59 percent to 41 percent to stay in.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. With low voter participation on an off-year, the secession referendum appears to have won by the narrowest of margins — “by 16 votes out of 520 cast, according to preliminary results” reported by the Toledo Blade last night.

Spencer Township isn’t the only Toledo-area jurisdiction to question its participation in TARTA. It’s been happening in outlying areas on the fringe of the regional system, Jordan said, where residents might feel they’re not getting much service and want to start their own transit agency, focused on their community. That’s what happened in Perrysburg.

In March 2012, Perrysburg voters opted to leave TARTA in favor of starting a new local system — but then in November of that year, they voted narrowly to defeat the property tax proposal to fund that new system. Caught in a bind, they passed a funding measure earlier this year, but at about half the level originally proposed, making possible only dial-a-ride and fixed route service for people with disabilities.

Nearby Sylvania Township considered secession as well, but without a plan to create local service. That measure failed resoundingly last November, 37 to 63, and Sylvania Township remains part of TARTA.

A recount could still be necessary for Spencer Township, given the closeness of the vote.

Either way, let’s not let this blow to regional transit darken our view of what was a very successful night for transit.

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Attacking the Language Bias in Transportation Engineering

“Improvement.” “Upgrade.” “Level of Service.” The traffic engineering profession is full of buzzwords laden with meaning — and, for the most part, the embedded meaning is something to the effect of “cars are king.”

Ian Lockwood is also a prolific cartoonist. Image: How We Drive

Ian Lockwood, P.E., has been working in the engineering profession for 30 years. He served as the chief transportation official for the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, before joining the engineering firm AECOM as a consultant and completing a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard.

Lockwood is on a mission to reform the way his profession uses language. I got a chance to sit down with him last week at the Congress for New Urbanism conference in Salt Lake City. Here’s what he had to say:

Angie Schmitt: Are there any words in particular you are targeting?

Ian Lockwood: What I’m really targeting are the values that are behind the words. The words were coined during the golden age of the automobile, the 1930s through the 60s, by the transportation experts. Those folks memorialized those words in our books and technical manuals, like the Highway Capacity Manual. And the intention was to express the values of the profession in those words. The values, of course, were very automobile-oriented.

And we still use those words today, even though our value sets have shifted dramatically. What the words do is perpetuate the bias of the time. So if we want to reform and change things, it’s much more difficult if the automobile biases and culture are literally hard-wired into the language.

I compare it to the women’s movement somewhat. In the 1970s, women were trying to become more equal to men. They changed the language from gender-biased words like fireman, chairman, man hours, man-powered to firefighter, police officers… and it leveled the playing field. What I’m hoping is that we can substitute out the biased language. I just want a level playing field so we can have rational discussions without the value-coded language skewing things all the time.

AS: Can you give us some examples of biased words?

IL: Probably the one we hear the most is “improvement.” When a conventional traffic engineer talks about an improvement, often it might mean a widening. It’s hard to argue against an “improvement,” because it’s a subjectively labeled word and it implies it’s getting better, even though it might not be getting better for all the user groups. It contains a bias for the automobile user over and above the other folks.

Ian Lockwood, PE, is on a mission to reform the "biased language" in transportation engineering. Image: Harvard Graduate School of Design

AS: Does that word have a really technical definition?

IL: No, it’s just the habit. But it’s used in definitions, like the “Transportation Improvement Plan.” Quite frequently those transportation improvement plans are mostly widening plans. And transportation improvement sounds like an inherently good thing to a layperson or a politician, but if they knew it was just a set of widenings, perhaps they would think differently.

The word “upgrade,” when you talk about changing a street from a collector street to an arterial street, it implies things are getting better. Why would you argue against an upgrade on a street –unless you’re a business person, or a cyclist, or someone that lives in the neighborhood that thinks the neighborhood is going to get worse because of it?

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LaHood: Zero Tolerance for Drivers Who Disrespect Cyclists

Secretary Ray LaHood (left) and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (right) ride along the Riverwalk to kick off U.S. DOT's bike safety summit. Photo: City of Tampa, via Fast Lane

First there was “Click It or Ticket.” Then there was Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Now, U.S. DOT is campaigning to end another life-threatening behavior: disrespecting cyclists.

“We need to develop zero tolerance for people who don’t respect cyclists,” Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday at the first of two national bike safety summits hosted by U.S. DOT this month. “That’s the campaign we’re kicking off today.”

At yesterday’s summit in Tampa, Florida, LaHood announced a new, long-term, national-level campaign to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety through aggressive education, enforcement and engineering.

“It’s simple,” LaHood said yesterday. “When you build a road, build a bike lane. When you’re fixing up your street, build in a bike lane. Do that, and we’ll be supportive of that at the national level.”

“Another simple thing,” LaHood went on. “We need to make sure people driving here have respect for bicyclists. Bicyclists have as much right to the road as they do.”

“If someone is not respectful of cyclists, there’s a penalty,” he said. “That’s it in a nutshell.”

The secretary conceded that improving conditions for bicyclists will not happen overnight, but he made a promise to the more than 200 planners, advocates and bicycle professionals in the audience that U.S. DOT “will not stop until the number of bicyclists killed on our roads is zero.”

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