Student Walkers On Their Own in Florida’s Dangerous Metro Areas

As pedestrians, we’re always in one of two situations: We’re either walking on or along the road or we’re crossing the road, and we hope we can get where we’re going safely.

When it comes to determining whether either of those scenarios is safe for our children as they walk to and from school, school districts look to section 1006.23 of the Florida statutes which says that it’s not hazardous for children to walk on the road unless the traffic volume is at least 180 vehicles per hour in each direction, a total of 360 vehicles per hour. That amounts to 1 vehicle every 10 seconds. Then, the statute says that crossing a road at an intersection controlled by a stop sign or stop light isn’t hazardous for our children unless the traffic volume is at least 4,000 vehicles per hour, an average of more than 1 vehicle per second.

Can you imagine your child or your grandchild—or yourself—in either of those two scenarios, looking over your shoulder every 10 seconds to avoid being hit by a car as you walk along the road or finding yourself in an unwinnable and potentially tragic race to cross the road at an intersection while dodging vehicles at a rate of more than one every second?

That unbelievably unrealistic criteria might help explain why Polk and Manatee County School Districts, with enrollments of more than 90,000 and 40,000 respectively, report eligibility for transportation service around hazardous walking conditions for none of their students. It might also help explain why Orange, Volusia, Brevard, and Duval Counties, each with enrollments of more than 60,000 students, transport fewer than 1% of their students due to hazardous walking conditions.

But student enrollment by itself doesn’t mean much until we see that those school districts all own the highest student enrollments in their respective metropolitan areas, and those metropolitan areas all rank as the 6 most dangerous for pedestrians in the United States. They combined for an average of 169 pedestrian deaths per year between 2016 and 2018.

Then, in spite of student enrollment in those six school districts increasing by more than 63,000 students over the ten-year period between the 2009-10 and 2018-19 school years, the number of students those school districts transported around hazardous walking conditions fell by more than 2,300 students.

They don’t transport more students because the hazardous walking conditions statute makes it difficult and costly for them to do so, and the statute doesn’t do what it purports to do: identify conditions that are hazardous to students and satisfy the Constitutional and statutory requirement to provide for safe access to public education.

As the Florida legislature approaches its 2021 session, legislation designed to fix section 1006.23 of the Florida statutes will make its way through the legislative process. That legislation takes a commonsense approach to determining when walking conditions are hazardous for students, and it provides transportation service eligibility for students who encounter those conditions.

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