Street design ordinance calls for bicycle traffic accommodations

5 Points concept study could be the blueprint  

By Stephen Kindland
Resident Community News

An ordinance championed by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer should help to create safer travel for bicyclists living in a city that ranks among the nation’s worst for bicycle and pedestrian safety.

The ordinance – passed by the city council in March – calls for the formation of a 13-member “context sensitive streets” committee that will be charged with rewriting the city’s street design standards for all new road construction and reconstruction by March of next year. The revised standards will require new roads to “appropriately accommodate” bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

The ordinance also calls for the committee to review and revise the standards when necessary. Though the committee has yet to be named, its members likely will borrow from recommendations contained in a “concept study” being conducted in Riverside’s 5 Points commercial district, according to Boyer, whose District 5 includes San Marco.

“They may actually set the standards,” she said of 5 Points Merchants Association members who have hired Stephen Tocknell of Tocknell Planning Services to complete the study. “They know where we’re heading.

“Safety is a serious issue for Jacksonville,” she added. “I think there should be corridors and routes to get bicyclists to the suburbs.”
The 5 Points study seeks to improve traffic flow in the highly condensed business area of Park, Post, Margaret and Lomax streets while providing safe and easily accessible travel for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Tocknell, an Avondale resident who is active in three different bicycle advocacy groups, says the recommendations made in the study will be presented to city planners and engineers. Hopefully, the concept plan will serve as a blueprint for making improvements starting in the city’s 2014-2015 budget year, he said.
“I would think the committee would mine this study for all it’s worth,” Tocknell said. “We’re in a good spot right now. No one knows what the new standards are, so we want to use this [concept study] as a prototype.”

The committee will comprise six members appointed by the mayor; six others appointed by the city council president; and the director of mass transit for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

Denise Chaplick, who recently was hired as Jacksonville’s first full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, will be among five city workers who serve as staff members to the committee.

Chaplick, a senior planner with a bicycle and pedestrian program in Newark, NJ, begins her duties in early October. Her position will be within the city’s Development Services Division of the Planning and Development Department

The new ordinance and the hiring of Chaplick are seen as significant steps forward for people using alternative forms of transportation – especially residents who walk and pedal through older, established neighborhoods with narrow streets, such as Riverside, Avondale and San Marco.
Len Burroughs, vice president of the Murray Hill Preservation Association and board member of the 1,200-member North Florida Bicycle Club, says he’s delighted to see such progress.

“Jacksonville has been way too one-sided [in favor of motorists] for years and years,” he said. “We have a hideous reputation for safety. We kill people regularly.”
Burroughs was referring to a study conducted by the national Alliance for Biking and Walking, a coalition of 200 state and local bicycle and pedestrian organizations that promote bike riding and walking as alternative forms of transportation.

The alliance’s latest biennial benchmarking report ranks Jacksonville as the third worst among 51 U.S. cities in annual traffic deaths for bicyclists, and the second worst in pedestrian deaths. The ranking was based on a per capita rating as well as other survey elements.

In addition, Bicycling magazine listed Jacksonville as one of the three worst biking cities in its May 2010 edition, behind Birmingham, AL, and Memphis, TN.
But there is some good news for Jacksonville bicyclists and pedestrians. There was an 18 percent decrease in the number of reported pedestrian crashes – from 305 to 220 – between Jan. 1 and Aug. 15 of 2013 and the same time period in 2012, according to statistics provided by Chief Adam Brown of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

However, the 220 crashes included 20 pedestrian deaths, a drop of only 5 percent – from 21 to 20 – over the same period in 2012.

Brown, who presented the information during a recent Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Task Force meeting sponsored by Jacksonville Community Council Inc., said there was a 22 percent decrease in the number of reported bicycle crashes – from 156 to 122 – during the same time frames; and that there were six bicycle fatalities during each period.

Despite the decreases, longtime bicycle advocate Bert Shaw says the city needs to pick up the pace in providing bicycle and pedestrian safety. He said Jacksonville is “woefully behind” other Florida cities, and that Florida legislators lag behind most other states in providing alternative transportation leadership – and
funding.
“They don’t concern themselves with it,” Shaw said.

Task force members also agree that Jacksonville would need to undergo a “complete culture change” if the city is to shake its dubious reputation.
Shaw said he has visited other cities that have succeeded in changing motorist’s minds toward bicyclists by implementing public information campaigns and passing ordinances such as the one the Jacksonville City Council passed in March.
“That is possible,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen.”

Carmen Godwin, executive director of Riverside Avondale Preservation, agrees.
“Most certainly there needs to be a change in the mindset and attitude motorists have toward bicyclists and sharing the road,” she said. “There definitely needs to be some kind of cultural changes about sharing the roadways.”

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