The Florida Hazardous Walking Conditions statute, section 1006.23, is a maze of provisions that are in place to reassure us that children who live within a reasonable walking distance of school will be safeguarded from walkway hazards. It’s unfortunate that the statute falls so dramatically short of the mark, given its place in the Education Code where one would expect to find policies that reflect an acute understanding of the vulnerability of our children in certain complex and dynamic scenarios.
At a time when school and student safety is an issue that has tragically found focus in our state, we should not wait for more tragedy before addressing this rapidly emerging challenge, particularly since Florida has been identified as the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians. It’s time to do the right thing and adopt a responsible and reasonable hazardous walking conditions criteria.
Here are 7 of the key features in our proposal to improve the statute and safeguard our students in the face of hazardous walking conditions:
(1) Except for residential areas that have a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less, there must be a sidewalk or a suitable stable surface area at least 5 feet wide adjacent to and separate from the edge of the road and any paved shoulder. Otherwise, the walkway is hazardous.
Currently, a walkway that is at least 4 feet wide separated from the roadway is not required unless there is a posted speed limit greater than 30 miles per hour and there is a traffic volume on the road of at least 180 vehicles per hour in each direction. The requirement for a traffic volume of at least 180 vehicles per hour in each direction amounts to an average total of 1 vehicle passing students every 10 seconds before students are permitted to have a suitable walkway off of the road. Additionally, the current statute is written in a way that not only makes the required traffic volume unreasonably high, it requires a high traffic volume in each direction that can preempt a determination that even a dangerously high volume of traffic in the direction that a child is walking is hazardous.
(2) Any portion of drainage ditches, sluiceways, swales, channels, or other stormwater runoff facilities or systems are not suitable walkways.
Currently, the statute leaves some to interpret the statute as pertaining only to the depths of these facilities and systems which means that their slopes might be deemed suitable walkways for students under the statute.
(3) Railroad crossings, bridges, and overpasses that lack paved walkways designed for pedestrians are hazardous walking conditions.
The current statute is silent on those hazards.
(4) The proposal requires that when roads along which students must walk have a speed limit of 45 miles per hour or greater, their walkway must be separated from the road and any paved shoulder by no less than 5 feet or be considered hazardous for students.
Currently, the statute requires only 3 feet of separation between the walkway and the road when the posted speed limit is 50 miles per hour or greater. The FDOT Greenbook states that 5 feet of separation is the design parameter for walkway separation from the road.
(5) Students shall not be required to cross a road outside of properly marked crosswalks in order to acquire a safe walkway parallel to the road.
Currently, there is no such requirement and there is the expressed expectation by virtue of the method for measuring walking distance for transportation eligibility that where students cross roads and whether it is safe for them to do so is not a consideration in the statute.
(6) Road crossing sites shall be considered hazardous when students must cross more than two lanes of traffic, including turn lanes and free-flow right turn lanes, that have a have a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour or greater, or that the designated crossing site is situated in a location where it is likely that student pedestrians crossing the roadway on “green” would encounter traffic turning from left turn lanes, lanes where a right turn on red is authorized, and free-flow right turn lanes.
Currently, the statute does not consider the complexity of intersections in its criteria. The current statute simply states that it is not hazardous for students to cross an intersection that has a stop light or stop sign if the traffic volume passing through the intersection is less than 4,000 vehicles per hour which equates to more than 1 vehicle per second. The current statute also does not find crossing sites that do not have stop lights or stop signs hazardous if they have a traffic volume of less than 360 vehicles per hour in each direction, a rate of 1 vehicle every 5 seconds. In addition to the unsafe traffic volume threshold at those “uncontrolled” crossing sites, the fact that a high traffic volume is required in each direction at times when traffic is predominantly flowing in the direction that students are walking is also unreasonable. The proposal reflects the Florida DOT Greenbook’s cautions about pedestrian safety at complex traffic intersections.
(7) A “designated crossing site” for students is defined as being one that is properly marked as a pedestrian crossing site on the road surface and is supplemented by special emphasis markings such as signals, signs, beacons, or enhanced overhead lighting that conspicuously identify the location as a pedestrian crossing site.
There are currently no parameters that describe what constitutes adequate markings for student crossing sites so that vehicles can anticipate student crossings.