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Pedestrian safety topic of presentation at Ruskin Senior Center

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image Jason Jackman from the University of South Florida Center of Urban Transportation Research during an educational presentation on pedestrian safety at the Ruskin Senior Center last week. Photo Mitch Traphagen

Statistically it is far more dangerous for a pedestrian or bicyclist in Tampa than it is in traffic and population-choked Manhattan.

By Mitch Traphagen
Florida is a land of palm trees, sunshine, beaches and beautiful weather; a place that welcomes millions of tourists each year, offering a bright respite from the cold and occasionally dreary places. For all that Florida offers, however, it isn’t particularly welcoming for pedestrians. In fact, it can be downright deadly.

Florida cities make up the top four most dangerous cities in America for pedestrians and bicyclists, with Orlando coming in as the worst, followed by the Tampa Bay Area, Jacksonville and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale.  New York, the nation’s largest city, and certainly one with the largest pedestrian population, ranks a distant 50 behind cities such as Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Yes, that is correct: statistically it is far more dangerous for a pedestrian or bicyclist in Tampa than it is in traffic and population-choked Manhattan.

Those lamentable rankings, certainly designations that have the potential to dim the bright economic sunshine of tourism in the Sunshine State, have caught the attention of political leaders from the cities and counties to the Governor’s office and they are taking action.

Last week, Jason Jackman, program planner analyst from the Center of Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) from the University of South Florida, visited the Ruskin Senior Center to talk about how pedestrians and bicyclists can take steps to protect themselves.  CUTR has partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation to form WalkWise TampaBay, an effort to increase awareness of pedestrian, bicyclist and driver laws and also to provide some safety tips for those walking or pedaling the sometimes mean streets of the Bay Area.

WalkWise stands for: Wear bright colors or reflective clothing; Always be alert; Look left, right and left again; Know your surroundings; Watch for cars in parking lots; Impaired walking can be dangerous; Stay on sidewalks; and Expect the unExpected.

Many of the tips could be considered good common sense but with today’s focus on personal electronics, things have changed.  By now, most people are aware of the dangers involved with texting and driving but Jackman reminded the audience that dangers also apply to texting and walking, even talking on the phone and walking. He recommends avoiding it, specifically while crossing roads or in crosswalks. Obviously, the program strongly recommends against walking along roadways while intoxicated. Another tip suggests that when sidewalks are not provided, the pedestrian should walk on the shoulder of the road against traffic, rather than with traffic.

According to the information presented, the trend in the number of pedestrian fatalities has generally gone down since 2005; however, in 2011 there were nearly 11,000 crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists that resulted in more than 600 deaths. Additionally, there were 413 deaths involving motorcycles that year.

As a result, pedestrian and bicyclist safety became one of eight areas of emphasis for Florida’s 2012 Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Enforcement of driving laws is a major part of the initiative to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities but education for pedestrians is also a major component.

As part of the educational outreach, CUTR is offering free 15- to 20-minute PowerPoint presentations for organizations and groups.  For further information about WalkWise, visit walkwisetampabay.com. For information about programs for children, specifically addressing safety while walking to school, visit www.srtstb.com.

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