From the Sun Sentinel:
Q: In May, a new report ranked four Florida metro areas, including Orlando at No. 1 and South Florida at No. 4, among the nation’s most dangerous for pedestrians. You recently testified before Congress that it might not make sense to build sidewalks, landscaping and bike trails. Can you elaborate?
A: My point was we should not have pre-established goals. We need to make sure it’s needs-driven rather than a fixed amount of money or a percentage of the program spent on landscaping or sidewalks where they might not make sense.
Florida has been doing very good. Our highways are the safest in their history. (In 2009, the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said traffic deaths in Florida dropped to a historic low. The state recorded 2,563 traffic fatalities in 2009, compared with 3,533 in 2005.)
We’re committed to pedestrian safety. The numbers are trending downward. We recognize that one accident and one life taken is one too many. We’ve started a thorough review of our policies. We’re going to make sure any changes we need to make continue to make our roads safer for pedestrians, for people in automobiles and for bicyclists.
Mr. Secretary, Florida has NOT been doing ‘very good’ on bicycle/pedestrian safety. While auto accidents are down, the recent Transportation for America report “Dangerous by Design” showed that our four largest cities rank in the top four most unsafe cities in the US with regard to pedestrian safety. How can you reconcile these rankings with your assertion that numbers are trending downward? 3,359 pedestrians died in Florida’s four largest cities from 2000 to 2009 – that’s 30% more bike/ped fatalities than traffic fatalities in 2009.
Mr. Prasad: I am concerned about the direction FDOT is taking with our streets – and your commentary in the Sun Sentinel is the best evidence yet that your office, and indeed the entire culture of the Florida Department of transportation is out of touch with the needs of the citizenry. The day of car dominated transportation planning is over – FDOT needs to catch up with the times and work toward creating a truly multi-modal network. Streets are for people – not just cars! Traffic studies, highway building, and level of service designations in many cases should take a back seat to issues of quality of life and urban functionality when planning state roads.
Too many State roads continue to turn their back on their context; this does not need to be the case. The ongoing work on Brickell has been a lost opportunity to reduce design speeds, add more crosswalks, and create an amazing pedestrian boulevard – a sentiment voiced by the Brickell Area Association and Brickell Condo Association. The ongoing repaving of Biscayne Boulevard has also been a lost opportunity to provide better streets for citizens – a sentiment echoed by the MiMo Business Association. The growing uproar over State stewardship of local roads is reflected in the range of people participating in the discussion; from board rooms and storefronts, to neighborhood and condo associations across Florida. The constituency of FDOT alienated citizens is growing its ranks and includes merchants, industry, residents, and elected officials.
The list of lost opportunities goes on. Let me reiterate: this is not about pitting modes against each other, but about achieving a balance for all users. That may mean in some cases a reduction in car LOS and capacity – but also lead to greater capacity for other modes. We can plan for a future of more cars, but we can also plan for a future of more flexible mobility. The choice is in the hands of the FDOT.
Finally, Mr. Secretary, your assertion that the philosophy of your department with regard to bike/ped funding is ‘needs-driven’ is exactly the type of circular thinking that obfuscates the real issue and makes transportation planning sound mystical. Transportation demand is controlled by public policy and investments; there is nothing accidental about the transportation choices people make. The more investments we make in creating multimodal transportation networks, the more demand there will be for those networks. Either you are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Florida’s citizens or you have a basic misunderstanding of the way transportation networks operate. Elected officials, transportation engineers, and the myriad of transportation agencies determine transportation demand by providing (or limiting) mass transit alternatives, pricing roads and parking cheaply (or expensively), and providing abundant (or limited) pedestrian and bicycle facilities.
Transportation choices don’t happen by accident -they require a commitment to achievable goals. We need leadership that recognizes that spending on bike/ped infrastructure and transit operations is an investment that pays off by, 1) keeping money in people’s wallets, 2) increasing property values, and 3) attracting the creative class (and accompanying community investment) that goes along with improved urban amenities.
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