Highway crews are finishing recent upgrades to State 70 East—and there’s more to come. Road-users need to be aware of the changes and remember to obey all new signage and pedestrian crossings. Infrastructure work and repaving on 10th Avenue and Cypress Street add to the challenges of getting about town, but ultimately that will facilitate travel. Be mindful of detours and our construction workers as these projects proceed.
Other news: Crosswalks and upgraded crossing signals are going in on SR 70 from SE 10th to Turner Avenue. New “countdown” crosswalk signals are going in at Turner and 15th Avenue/Airport Road, with additional displays showing the number of seconds remaining to cross the street. And two mid-block crossings with raised median or refuge islands are new. Motorists and bicyclists must yield when people are in the crosswalk by stopping behind the wide white line on the pavement.
Bike lanes are marked along the right-hand sides of traffic lanes. Motorists need to watch for cyclists and yield to them when turning. Westbound, where the bike lane ends as the road narrows to two traffic lanes at Mills Avenue, cyclists have three choices: They can use the traffic lane, use the sidewalk, or use an alternate parallel roadway. In high-traffic situations, the third choice is often the safest. When the work is complete, a right turn on Mills and then a left on Cypress will offer a safe and smooth parallel road.
Mostly importanly, avoid distractions while driving, cycling or walking. Focus on the road, be mindful^p of your surroundings and traffic. Florida starting in January 2020 will have a new texting-and-driving law. AAA research shows those texting and driving/fooling with cellphones/dash equipment—so-called distracted driving—are eight times more likely involved in a crash. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles last year reported more than 51,000 statewide crashes involving distracted drivers. The new law makes cellphone distractions a primary violation, broadly banning any use of a handheld cellphone operating a motor vehicle in a designated school crossing or school zone, or a road work zone. Walkers shouldn’t use cellphones, either. Injuries to pedestrians using cellphones have doubled in five years. Step to the side to use your phone, because four pedestrians on average per day are treated in Florida hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to cellphone use while walking.
Highway design evolved with the automobile. As cars became larger and faster, road standards changed. But along the way provisions for pedestrian and bicycle traffic were often left out. Florida is the worst state for pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. Between 2003 and 2012, for instance, 5,189 people were killed while walking in Florida, representing 17.7 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. Over 54 percent of older Americans living in inhospitable neighborhoods say they would walk and bike more often if there were safe pathways.
It is clear change is needed.
Recognizing that “every trip starts and ends with walking,” the Florida Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets Policy in 2014 that mandates “context-based street design.” Planners and engineers consider existing and future characteristics such as land uses, building configuration, and street connectivity to ensure that roads are designed for the right vehicle speeds, road users, and trip types.
There is an average of 10 years between transportation project conception and completion. The DeSoto Countywide Greenway Bicycle and Sidewalk System Master Plan published in 2008 and the Arcadia Bike/Pedestrian Master Plan published in 2012 identified the area of U.S. Highway 17 south of town between Heard and MLK Jr. streets as our community’s most dangerous. Yet when the area was widened in 2017-2018, sidewalks were improved, but few provisions for crossing the now wider street were provided.
Because the US 17 improvements were planned before the new regulations came into effect, the work did not incorporate the new guidelines. Incidents in the area prompted continued study. Recent pedestrian traffic counts indicted over 200 crossings in a 24-hour period. The area is now on the drawing board for improvements in the near future.
Also coming—new signal lights at the Walmart-Arcadia Village intersection on SR 70 that will have five lightheads each.
Everyone using state, county and city roads needs to be aware of these recent and coming upgrades.