Creating a Safer Pinellas County

Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design report released today ranks the Tampa Bay area as the seventh most dangerous metro area in the country for people walking. Despite that dubious distinction, we were encouraged to see our area’s standing in the rankings improve five spots from the past three reports. While the trend is positive, we know that there is still much work to be done to make Pinellas County a safer place for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Photo Credit: Pinellas County

Photo Credit: Pinellas County

The good news is developments that will improve our region’s safety are already in motion. Forward Pinellas’s Complete Streets program, which offers funding for local governments to create safer streets for everyone, received six applications in response to our first Call for Projects and we will make recommendations for funding at our March board meeting. In 2016, Forward Pinellas adopted its first multimodal priority list with 20 projects that included all forms of transit, walking and biking among them.

All three of our SPOTlight areas – three areas of emphasis that drive our work and MPO vision for the coming years – include safety as a central component of planning and programming transportation improvements. Enhancing beach community access, the U.S. 19 Corridor, and the Gateway/Mid-County Area each include multimodal strategies that enable residents and visitors to move beyond cars as the only transportation option. Beginning in 2017, Forward Pinellas is working with its state and local partners to develop a Vision Zero action plan with a goal to eliminate fatalities and reduce serious injuries countywide.

“This improvement is an indication that we are on the right track with our programs and initiatives, and with pedestrian safety and accessibility at the forefront of each of our SPOTlight focus areas, I am confident that crashes involving pedestrians will continue to drop,” said Rodney Chatman, Forward Pinellas planning division manager. “We all acknowledge there’s still a whole lot to do, and we look forward to opportunities to work with our partners. Creating the Vision Zero action plan is the culmination of our previous efforts, and the beginning of an exciting new phase in our work to make this area safer for everyone.”

Our partners are making strides to improve safety, too. We applaud the Florida Department of Transportation for implementing a Complete Streets policy, adopting a process and revising its design manuals to fundamentally change how it designs and builds roads, as well as Pinellas County for its focus on pedestrian and bicycle accommodations and trail connections. In addition, the county has been part of several multi-agency, multi-disciplinary Roadway Safety Audits at some hot spot locations for crash events. These RSAs provide the opportunity to review  a roadway segment or intersection to identify problems and solutions.

“Pinellas County continues to prioritize and enhance sidewalk connections and bicycle and pedestrian devices,” said Ken Jacobs, Pinellas County Transportation Division Director. “Expanding our network of shared use paths, and improving the connections to them, is another part of the overall strategy to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians countywide. Toward that end, funding has been set aside to construct the last sections of the Pinellas Trail Loop in northern Pinellas County, from Northeast Coachman Road up to Chesnut Park in the East Lake area.”

For a state that experienced most of its growth during the heyday of the automobile, improving pedestrian safety in Florida requires a fundamental shift in how we think about and define transportation accomplishments. The fact is, many of our roads are dangerous by design for those who have to cross them, bicycle along them, or who simply want to travel at the posted speed. The more we can think of transportation in comprehensive way – to include both accessibility to destinations and efficient mobility – the safer our streets will be for everyone. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the county and across the region – and with our residents – to make Pinellas County a safer place for pedestrians and bicyclists in the coming years.

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