In 2011, the Orlando Metro area was ranked as the most dangerous area for pedestrians in the nation. That didn’t sit well with many Central Florida residents who wanted their community to be a place where people could feel safe crossing the street.
So, under the leadership of former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin, the nonprofit Bike/Walk Central Florida created Best Foot Forward for Pedestrian Safety, a coalition of civic leaders, public safety officials, engineers, educators, transportation planners, advocates and concerned citizens who are working together to engineer street enhancements, educate the public and enforce Florida driving laws. The mission is to give residents in communities across Orange County, from Winter Park to Winter Garden, access to safer streets.
The report that ranked Orlando number one was called “Dangerous by Design” and was created by Smart Growth America, a national organization that advocates for “better ways to build and maintain our towns and cities.” Metro Orlando ranked number one again in its 2014 report.
Amanda Day, project director of Best Foot Forward, explains that Orlando’s ranking is based on how many people walk to work versus the number of pedestrian fatalities. Because so few Orlandoans walk to work, it may be that drivers are just not looking out for them. A short-term goal for Best Foot Forward is to increase driver yield rates. “Ninety-nine percent of people don’t even know it’s the law to stop,” Day says.
Part of the problem is in the design and engineering of the local transportation system. “The roads here are designed to move cars, not people,” Day says.
As a mom of two who walked her children to school every day, Michelle Sartor of Maitland agrees that many of the roads in Orlando are not safe for pedestrians, especially children. Sartor is one of three founders of Walk ‘N Roll, a program that encourages parents and kids to walk, bike, skate — anything that gets them out of the car and active — on their commute to school. Sartor now works with Healthy Central Florida, a nonprofit organization that aims to create a healthier community, as the organization’s walking coordinator and has helped implement the Walk ‘N Roll program in many local schools.
Sartor says that many parents choose to drive their kids to school because they’re concerned about safety around fast-moving cars. So Walk ‘n Roll works to not only advocate for healthy habits like walking every day, but to educate students about pedestrian safety.
Sartor’s children walked to school from the time they were in kindergarten to 8th grade. Now they are driving, and she says the program still helps them. “The one thing it teaches you is to look out for pedestrians when you become a driver,” she says.
Ultimately, the Walk ‘N Roll program and Best Foot Forward hope to inspire change in the long run. “We’re just planting the seeds for change five to 10 years down the road,” Day says.