Residents weigh in on Vision Zero Bike/Ped Policy

To eliminate bike and walking fatalities on Jacksonville streets, many bicyclists and pedestrians in the historic neighborhoods relish the idea of the City embracing a “Vision Zero Policy” – which calls for the City to take steps to eliminate all bike and pedestrian fatalities – as a fundamental part of its a new roadway master plan.

According to Christopher Burns, head of the City’s Bicycle Pedestrian Action Committee (BPAC), the 2016 Alliance for Biking and Walking Benchmarking Report stated that, of the 50 biggest cities in the United States, Jacksonville is ranked worst in the whole country for combined pedestrian and bicycling deaths. In addition to this notorious distinction, Jacksonville is also the fourth worst city in the U.S. for pedestrian danger, according to the 2016 Dangerous by Design report, he said.

To address and change its dangerous reputation, the City hired Toole Design Group to come up with a plan to transform Jacksonville into a walkable, street-friendly place with a focus on being attractive to businesses and millennials. During a final presentation March 27 in the Ed Ball Building, Andy Clarke, director of strategy for Toole Design, said the crux of the 119-page master plan recommends the adoption of a bold “Vision Zero Policy” to help change the City’s culture when it comes to bicycling and walking.

To increase roadway safety, Vision Zero Policy recommends the city retrofit roads and sidewalks with barriers, dedicated bike lanes, crosswalks, lane reductions, medians, and rectangular rapid flash beacons (RRFBs) to protect pedestrians and cyclists from vehicular traffic. Where it is not possible to change infrastructure, the plan recommends speed limits be significantly reduced to ensure pedestrians and cyclists survive accidents when they happen.

Dan Globus, a San Marco resident, cheered the master plan but said it may not go far enough.

“I think it’s imperative for Jacksonville to implement the Vision Zero Policy, but it will certainly be a challenge for the community. With the diversity of needs and wide range of thoughts around walking, cycling and transportation, there will be inherent hurdles to implementation. This strategy will require city and community leaders to own the plan and make some tough calls that may not be popular with some residents but are necessary to save lives,” Globus said.

“The plan is focused in its scope, and considering that we are at a crisis point in terms of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in Jacksonville, it is appropriate for addressing our city’s issues. That said, I think the City must go further than the Vision Zero Policy to develop safe and comfortable walking and bicycling spaces in our historic districts that are less car-centric,” he said, adding he is excited the plan focuses on a data-based feedback loop where the City will acquire the statistics it needs to identify priority projects, implement impactful solutions and justify expenditures.

Policy implementation feasible

Burns agreed that implementation is key. “This is only a plan. It must be implemented and not sit on a shelf collecting dust. This plan only considers Mobility Zones 7-10. Its concepts must be applied by local City planners, Public Works, and City officials to our entire area. We must focus on reconstructing existing roads, and we must find funds in all areas,” he said adding that the master plan has additional benefits other than safety.

“The problem is that Jacksonville is an unsafe place to walk or ride a bike. People are afraid. Walking and bicycling are good for public health, and Jacksonville does not have a healthy adult population,” he said, noting that 66 percent of adults living in the city are overweight or obese. “Improving our citizens’ health would lower healthcare costs for both government and private businesses providing health insurance, as well as out-of-pocket expenses for residents.” Walking and bicycling are good for the economy, the environment, and real estate values because people want to drive less, he said.

Erik Anderson of Riverside agreed that dangerous public roads discourage would-be cyclists and walkers. “Right now, we have a problem with the lack of bike lanes on major thoroughfares throughout the city,” he said. “Often pedestrian safety infrastructure is severely lacking. All it takes is a trip down Timuquana/103rd, Blanding, San Jose, or any other 45-mph-plus four-lane thoroughfare to see the issue. These routes have highway-width lanes that encourage fast driving, regardless of speed limits. That, combined with minimum pedestrian crossings and non-continuous or non-existent sidewalks and short crossing times at crosswalks, make for dangerous roads for both walking and cycling. Zoning and development reinforce the car-centric nature of the property along these routes,” he said.

It is “feasible” to implement Vision Zero Policy in Jacksonville, said Anderson.  “We have the right raw material to easily make biking anywhere in the city possible,” he said, noting the city has great weather, flat land, and is spread out, allowing easy access to multi-use paths and trails. “I believe the biggest obstacles are changing the local culture as it relates to cyclists and pedestrians, bureaucratic/political hurdles such as FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) regulations, and negotiations with private entities for access,” he said.

Teryn Romaine of Riverside, who commutes daily by bike to Stanton College Preparatory School, liked the plan but is worried about implementation. “We have seen enough things get sunken in government bureaucracy that it can feel pointless to make useful proposals,” she said.

Education necessary,
missing from plan

Jenny Henry of Murray Hill, co-founder and director of JaxBike Coalition, said she was “very excited” about plans to accelerate the installation or RRFBs citywide and the new multi-use path scheduled to be built across the Fuller Warren Bridge. However she was disappointed that roadway safety instruction is not included in the plan.

“Something that desperately needs to be included is the educational aspect of change,” said Henry. “All the road paint and signage in the world isn’t going to save me from belligerent or distracted motorists, which happens to be an epidemic now due to mobile devices. Jacksonville motorists are not being properly educated on road sharing, right of ways, and the horrific consequences of distracted driving,” she said.

“Education should include our police department. JSO needs to work with cyclists, pedestrians and people who ride the bus, not against them. The laws are not being enforced here, and the consequences for hitting a cyclist or pedestrian are nowhere near where they should be,” she said.

Speeding fines and additional jail time might cause motorists to think before driving recklessly, she added. “We need to implement cultural-shifting education programs at the initial source – high school Driver’s Ed class – and at the final source, law enforcement. We need funding for a true nonprofit bike/ped advocacy organization so experts can afford to educate the public fulltime and host events to raise awareness and encourage higher numbers of ridership,” she said.

Several elements, which are not part of the master plan, could be added to make things safer for bicyclists, walkers, and drivers, said Romaine.

“It is great to see the multi-use path that will be cantilevered off the Fuller Warren Bridge redo,” she said. “It may be (completed) four years from now, and in the meantime, we will keep using the Acosta (Bridge).” In the shorter term, enforcement is needed on existing laws about which side of the road bikers use, the use of signals by cars and bikes, and for the motorized bikes, which go too fast for sidewalks, dart across roads, and are sometimes on highways, she said.

“We could really use some bike lanes in the Riverside/Avondale area, such as on Oak Street, and some sort of bike route with bike-able pavement and without on-street parking. That should be able to take you from Ortega to downtown,” she continued. “It would be nice to have some cross-street routes like Barrs (Street). Most of College (Street) is doable, although on-street parking constricts it in places. New developments should include parking garages. I would also like to see public multi-use access along the St. Johns Northbank extending beyond the Fuller Warren.”

Globus also said enforcement of road laws is important. “A 25-mph speed limit is useless if it’s ignored,” he said. “We need the City to demand that revenue generated from the enforcement of Vision Zero enhancements be returned from the state to the city and earmarked to continue improvements.”

Steve Tocknell of Riverside said he thought the master plan was “very comprehensive and almost overwhelmingly so.” Although he recognizes safety could be improved in Riverside and Avondale, it is the “underserved” and “disadvantaged” areas of the city that should be focused on first. “We have problems in Riverside and Avondale, but we don’t have the fatalities they have in other parts of the city,” he said.

As a pedestrian advocate, Larry Roberts of San Jose said he is happy the master plan included specific actions and projects that will enhance walking, but more is needed. “I wish the plan included more about the next steps – the process of identifying funding sources, matching specific projects to a funding source, and obtaining approval,” he said. “This is a huge amount of detailed work that requires in-depth knowledge of how the system operates at the city, state, and national level.

“I can’t avoid thinking that if the hundreds of millions of dollars being considered by the City of Jacksonville for its portion of the proposed port dredging project were spent instead on city infrastructure to reduce crashes, deaths, and injuries to vehicle operators, pedestrians, and cyclists, the results would be staggering,” Roberts said. “The phenomenal improvement in quality of life in the city would make it a most desired place of life and work.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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