Florida metros among most dangerous for pedestrians, says a report from Transportation for America

Florida ranks among the top four

Florida is a mean place to cross the street.

The state has the top four most dangerous metro areas in the country for pedestrians, according to the most recent report from Transportation for America.

South Florida ranked No. 4; Orlando was No. 1.

With its wide roads built to move cars quickly, critics of Florida's transportation policies say there is little regard for people who walk or bike.

But 10 years from now it could be a lot kinder — if officials have the money to carry out their plans.

South Florida recorded 1,555 pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2009, according to Transportation for America, which promotes alternatives to driving. The region averaged 2.9 deaths for every 100,000 people.

Traffic engineers in South Florida have taken small steps in the past decade to improve safety for people walking. For instance, countdown clocks that tell pedestrians how much time they have to cross the street are now commonly found everywhere.

Planners acknowledge more must be done and are now increasingly shifting spending priorities from roads to mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.

In Palm Beach County, officials are focused on remaking U.S. 441 in West Boca into an area that supports mass transit with wide sidewalks for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Last year, for the first time, Broward planners put more emphasis on transit and pedestrian improvements than roads in the county's blueprint for transportation over the next 25 years. They are working with cities to develop transit hubs and bike lanes and sidewalks that would be built at the same time.

"This is a process. It took us 50-some odd years to get into this predicament," said Mark Horowitz, a Broward County bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. "It's not going to be a quick turnaround."

But Congress could throw up a roadblock next month as it drafts a new comprehensive transportation spending bill and sets priorities.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has proposed slashing transportation spending over the next six years by 35 percent and eliminating a dedicated fund for bike and pedestrian projects.

Florida's new Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad alarmed some bicycle and pedestrian advocates earlier in the year when he testified before Congress that it might not make sense to build sidewalks and bike trails if money is tight.

In June, Prasad told the Sun Sentinel that the DOT should not have pre-established goals when it comes to pedestrian improvements.

"We need to make sure it's needs-driven rather than a fixed amount of money or a percentage of the program spent on landscaping or sidewalks where they might not make sense," Prasad said.

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