Master plan aims for zero bike/pedestrian deaths

When it comes to walking and bicycling, Jacksonville – which notches nearly 40 bicycle and pedestrian fatalities each year – has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in the nation.

To transform the city into the kind of walkable, street-friendly place where future businesses may settle and millennials might want to live, Toole Design Group rolled out the final draft of its bicycle and pedestrian master plan in front of the city’s Bike/Pedestrian Steering Committee March 27 downtown in the Ed Ball Building.

Addressing city government department heads and representatives from other interested agencies, Andy Clarke, director of strategy for the Toole Design Group, said the bottom line to making the 119-page master plan work was to adopt a bold “Vision Zero Policy” to help change the city’s culture when it comes to bicycling and walking.

“A Vision Zero Policy says no loss of life is acceptable on Jacksonville streets and the responsibility for changing that dynamic is not just to exhort people into wearing brighter clothing or to pay more attention to when they cross the street,” Clarke said. “That simply isn’t enough. As long as we continue to excuse or explain away the terrible crash history we have here, it becomes really difficult to take a plan and implement it. A Vision Zero Policy takes it out of the realm of being a pedestrian/bicycle master plan – a special interest document – and puts it into the realm of a public safety, public health plan.”

First developed in Sweden, Vision Zero Policy is an international approach to addressing traffic safety in a different way, Clarke said, adding it prioritizes roadway engineering and the physical environment as ways to make sure people use the transportation system safely.

“Humans make mistakes, and we need to create a safe system so when mistakes are made, they are not fatal,” he said, noting New York City implemented the approach in 2014 and has seen its number of crashes drop to the lowest on record in each of the past three years.

Fundamental to a successful Vision Zero Policy is building or retrofitting roads and sidewalks with various facilities such as barriers, dedicated bike lanes, crosswalks, lane reductions, medians, or rectangular rapid flash beacons (RRFBs) to diminish the chance of accidents between pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles. Where this is not possible, speed must be reduced to ensure pedestrians and cyclists survive accidents when they happen.

“We need to make sure there is no opportunity for motorists to hit them at a speed where we know people will die,” Clarke said, adding that only one out of 10 pedestrians/bicyclists will survive a crash at 45 mph, while nine out of 10 do survive at 20 mph. “You can’t have people barreling down the street at 45 and 55 mph. If you aren’t prepared to slow traffic down, you need to instead create a safe system for pedestrians and bicyclists,” he said.

In implementing the master plan, the Toole Design group recommends the city begins with four projects: 1) a Soutel Drive road diet; 2) installing pedestrian and bicycle enhancements in the Phoenix neighborhood; 3) accelerating the installation of RRFBs citywide; and 4) making roads in Riverside and San Marco, which will hook up with the new multi-use path across the Fuller Warren Bridge, ready to ensure connectivity between both sides of the St. Johns River.

“To see this rolled out in the foreseeable future would send a strong signal to those neighborhoods where these changes are appropriate,” Clarke said.

It’s important to immediately follow through on fixing pedestrian/bike infrastructure so residents in the crash-heavy Soutel and Phoenix neighborhoods know the city is serious about their welfare, he said. The Toole Group also identified more than 80 locations for RRFBs and knows the city has funding for 30, which it recommends it installs in a timely manner. Preparing roads for the new I-95 dedicated multi-use bridge will be a “real catalyst of the city’s commitment” to the master plan and the bike/pedestrian “trail,” which is planned to loop through north San Marco and the Southbank, he said.

The Toole Group made seven key recommendations to help create an institutional framework essential to bringing the master plan to life: 1) Create a baseline of data through bike counts, and bike parking downtown when new development and redevelopment occurs; 2) Implementing projects quickly; 3) Adopt new consistent, coordinated, and current road standards, and making sure all transportation agencies citywide use them as well as train consultants and developers in the standards; 4) High-level coordination among the multi-transportation agencies twice a year to make sure all projects and schedules are on the same page; 5) Make a funding commitment of a recommended $10 million to independent projects and coordinated incidentals from a wide variety of city, state and federal funding sources; 6) Implementation oversight to make sure metrics are gathered, measured and met to document more people are walking/bike riding, fatal crashes are diminishing, and the master plan is moving ahead; 7) Adopt a Vision Zero Policy to change the culture of the city.

“Vision Zero Policy helps you ask the right questions, collect the right data, and develop the right approach in eliminating fatalities,” Clarke said. “Unless you do that, the quality-of-life benefits we want to see in walkability and bicycling over the next decade will not materialize. If Jacksonville is going to compete in economic opportunities, offer great quality of life, and attract the millennials that are driving the bus these days, this is what it has to do.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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