Time For a New Approach to Hazardous Walking Conditions Criteria

There’s no need to delay improving the hazardous walking conditions statute any longer in order to study the matter further. We already have a committee of professionals that knows what a realistic and practical criteria looks like.

Florida Statute 336.045 requires the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to “develop and adopt uniform minimum standards and criteria for the design, construction, and maintenance of all public streets, roads, highways, bridges, sidewalks, curbs and curb ramps, crosswalks, where feasible, bicycle ways, underpasses, and overpasses used by the public for vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”

Under authority of that statute, an advisory committee of professional engineers from each FDOT regional district, technical advisors, and staff–more than 50 members in all–meet to establish vehicular and pedestrian traffic design standards and criteria for the state of Florida. Their work product is published in FDOT’s Greenbook, a comprehensive and informative publication that not only reveals the expertise of its authors, it stands in stark contrast with Florida’s statute governing hazardous walking conditions for public school students, section 1006.23.

For instance, while Florida’s hazardous walking conditions statute not only presumes that children will utilize road shoulders when walking to and from school, it says that it isn’t hazardous for children to walk on the road itself unless traffic passes by them at a rate of at least 1 vehicle every 10 seconds.

By contrast, the Greenbook says that the primary function of road shoulders is to “provide emergency parking for disabled vehicles and an alternate path for vehicles during avoidance or other emergency maneuvers.” Clearly recognizing the potential for conflict between pedestrians and vehicular traffic on road shoulders, the Greenbook says that shoulders “are not intended for frequent use by pedestrians, but do accommodate occasional pedestrian traffic.” (emphasis added here)

Further recognizing the hazards encountered by pedestrians in today’s fast-moving and often distracted motor vehicle environment and the need to help increase the safe and efficient operation of roadways for pedestrians, the Greenbook goes even further. To protect pedestrians crossing the road, it suggests installing raised medians to provide pedestrian refuge areas, prohibiting right turns on red, controlling, reducing, or eliminating left and/or right turns, and prohibiting free flow right turn movements. None of those design elements are considered in the hazardous walking conditions statute, but they’re startlingly common along our children’s walking routes to and from school.

The hazardous walking conditions statute merely states that an intersection controlled by a traffic signal isn’t hazardous unless the traffic volume is at least 4,000 vehicles per hour, more than 1 every second. There is no regard in the statute for the hazards posed to children by the complex design features highlighted in the Greenbook.

It’s time to revise the hazardous walking conditions statute–it’s long overdue for an overhaul–and move away from relying on the Florida Education Code as the authority on hazardous walking conditions for children. It’s time instead to turn to engineering professionals to establish those standards and criteria for the sake of the safety of our children. Those engineering professionals recognize the hazards that pedestrians encounter on roadways today and are best positioned to relate those hazards to design and construction considerations within school walk zones. It’s clear that FDOT is the most qualified entity to develop and adopt standards and criteria regarding hazardous walking conditions that pose barriers to the safe access to public education for minor children.

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