BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando County grows, so too does the amount of traffic and pedestrian traffic on area roads.
The county and state are working to create more footpaths and bicycle lanes along some of the major roads under construction in the county, especially along busy State Road 50.
A new report from Smart Growth America, a national advocacy organization focused on community growth, shows that 39 pedestrians were killed in Hernando County from 2003 through 2012.
The annual pedestrian deaths per 100,000 was 2.37, placing Hernando County on a par with most counties in Florida and below the state average.
Regionally, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area was named the second most dangerous place for pedestrians in the country. Orlando was No. 1 on the list.
“I’m certain that these numbers are driving the feds and the state Department of Transportation to place more of an emphasis on pedestrian traffic safety, i.e. sidewalks and guard rails,” County Commissioner Dave Russell said. “It’s terrible here that we had that many pedestrian deaths, but it’s good to know that we were well within the average per 100,000.”
The regional numbers don’t surprise County Commissioner Dave Russell.
“It’s just the nature of the road system down there and the demographics of the drivers,” Russell said. “That’s a very congested place with a lot of pedestrians, a lot of older drivers. It’s a pretty volatile mix.”
Hernando County, he said, is fortunate to have an abundance of pedestrian walkways being built in high traffic areas, such as State Road 50.
“Hernando County stepped up to put in sidewalks in areas of high pedestrian traffic, along school routes, neighborhoods that lend themselves to foot travel,” he said.
The Smart Growth report shows that more than 47,000 people were killed while walking in the U.S. between 2003 and 2012 and that rate has been rising in the last few years.
The majority of those deaths likely could have been prevented with safer street design, according to the report.
“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year; a number that increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012,” according to Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice.”
Annually, around 4,500 pedestrians are killed in traffic crashes with motor vehicles in the United States, according to a separate report from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
Pedestrians killed while “walking along the roadway” account for almost 8 percent of those deaths and providing walkways separated from the travel lanes could help prevent up to 88 percent of those incidents, the FHA reports.
Tanya Marsh is all too familiar with the dangers of pedestrians trying to cross dangerous roadways.
Marsh, who uses roller skates while advertising for businesses, said she’s seen plenty of near misses by cars and walkers at the corner she is stationed at, by State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard.
That is one of the busiest intersections in Hernando County, and the Florida Department of Transportation is building pedestrian and bicycle sidewalks on either side.
That will be an enormous asset, said Marsh, who figures she sees between 6-12 pedestrians a day trying to get from one side of that corner to the next.
About a month-and-a-half ago, Marsh said she called law enforcement after a motorist got angry with a jogger, who was about four or five feet into the crosswalk, and tried to nudge her with the car so he could turn the vehicle.
Many drivers, she notices, are busy texting while trying to maneuver that intersection.
“We’re having problems big-time with people not waiting for people to stop and give (pedestrians) the respect to go,” Marsh said.
The sidewalks, she said, will help “all the way around.”
“It will be major pedestrian-friendly when they get that done,” Marsh said.
When finished, the six-mile stretch of SR 50 will be widened from four to six lanes. There will be a new 5-foot sidewalk along the north side of the road along that stretch. On the south side, there will be a 10-foot multi-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists that will extend from U.S. 19 to Wiscon Road, just north of the parkway access.
Some people continue to question the necessity of sidewalks along major roads, especially when they are built in areas of limited commercial and residential activity.
But workers are directed to follow the FDOT’s roadway design plans preparation manual on all projects, FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said recently.
“The language in (the manual) has been clarified by our state office in Tallahassee to mean that sidewalk(s) shall be added in buffer zones unless area outside of the right-of-way is required or the cost of the sidewalk is more that 25 percent of the overall project cost,” Carson said.
Buffer zones are based on population density and do not rely on the current land use, she added.