Florida House Bill 1043, filed last week by Representative Mike Beltran (Hillsborough), would require district school boards to provide transportation service for students who are subjected to hazardous walking conditions while improving the criteria that determines whether a walking condition is hazardous for them.
The need for decisive action in the legislature is highlighted in part by the fact that the National Complete Streets Coalition has placed Florida at the top of the list as the nation’s most dangerous state for pedestrians and the fact that the nation’s 6 most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians – and 8 of the top 10 – are in Florida.
That decisive action begins with addressing the conditions that students encounter while walking along roadways to and from school.
The current statute – section 1006.23 of the Florida statutes – states that students of any age do not need to have room to walk along (or off of) the roadway unless the traffic volume is greater than 180 vehicles per hour in each direction. That’s an average total of 1 vehicle every 10 seconds before the law considers it hazardous for a student to walk on the road or along a narrow strip off of the road. HB 1043 states that outside of residential areas with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less, there must be at least five feet of space off of the roadway for students to walk or the walkway would be considered hazardous and the students would be eligible for transportation service.
HB 1043 also resolves a dangerous scenario for students who need to cross the road on their way to and from school. The current statute states that intersections that have traffic signals aren’t hazardous for students unless the traffic volume on the road exceeds 4,000 vehicles per hour, an average of more than 1 vehicle per second. It also states that intersections that don’t include traffic control signals aren’t considered hazardous for students unless the traffic volume on the road exceeds 360 vehicles per hour in each direction, an average total of 1 vehicle every 5 seconds.
To correct that flaw, HB 1043 considers the complexity of road crossing sites when determining whether they’re hazardous for students. The bill states that it is hazardous for students to cross more than two lanes of traffic on roads that have a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour or greater if the crossing site is such that “it is likely that pedestrians crossing the road will encounter traffic turning from left turn lanes during a green light, there are turn lanes where a right turn on red light is authorized, or there are free-flow right turn lanes.”
HB 1043 would also streamline the process that school districts must follow to identify and document hazardous walking conditions and it would provide school districts the discretion to transport students who aren’t eligible for funded transportation service, at district expense. The bill would also require district school superintendents to request reviews of suspected hazardous walking conditions upon written request from a student’s parent.
Parents have long recognized that in a state and country that mandates the provision of public education, there should be reasonably safe access to that education and when children live within a reasonable walking distance of school, they should be able to walk safely to and from school or be considered eligible for school bus transportation service.
House Bill 1043 makes that possible.
Note: The criteria contained in HB 1043 is largely consistent with the language proposed by Safe Student Florida in 2019.