Yes, It’s A Design Problem


Barry Watkins, 01 May 2017

I went down to Palm Bay and made some observations the other day at the scene of the fatal collision where 10 yr old Odyssey Charter School student Ander Grooms was killed while bicycling home from school. Here’s a link to a recent update to the story in Florida Today: http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2017/04/22/few-patterns-brevard-youth-bike-pedestrian-crashes/100560106/ If you look at the streets around this area they are not all that bad in relative terms for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Right at this spot where the collision occurred however there are design issues that can definitely be corrected. Why don’t we take a closer look and learn all that we can from this tragedy?

Here is the corner

The above picture shows the place where the collision occurred. The pickup truck was making a right hand turn coming out onto Eldron Blvd from the plaza parking lot. The student was approaching on his bike riding south, and crossed in front of the truck. The driver of the pickup never saw the child, ran over him as he pulled out, and dragged him under his truck 50 ft before realizing he had hit something.

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Shouldn’t kids be able to ride their bikes home from school without fearing for their lives?

Is there anything about the design of this street and the surroundings that could possibly be improved? If the street were designed differently could that have increased this student’s chances of surviving his bike ride home? I say yes. In another article about this same incident (http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2017/04/06/childs-death-brings-tears-questions-palm-bay/100120004/) the mother of another Oddysey student is quoted as saying,  “My daughter goes to the same school. She asked me what happened and she rides a bicycle to school also,”…”This is such a busy road. I pound it into her head every day to make sure she’s paying attention. But we have to pay attention also. People just fly down the street and there’s no sign. It’s always busy.”

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The speed limit is posted as 30mph, but the design doesn’t match.

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the place is that the speed limit posted here is indeed a safe 30mph! But does the design of the road here match the speed limit? No. North of the plaza parking lot Eldron Blvd is two lanes and is lined on both sides with street trees and has good sidewalks. All good things for encouraging lower vehicle speeds and good for pedestrian and bicycle safety. But next to the plaza it takes on standard suburban extreme car-dominated character. The design elements encourage higher than safe speeds and cause other problems that make things dangerous for people in cars, walking, and on bikes.

What are the main problems with this design and how could they be fixed?

  1. First of all, the lanes should be narrowed. Vehicle lanes on a 30 mph street ought to be 10 ft maximum. I didn’t measure them, but they look to be wider, probably 11 or 12 ft.
  2. The curb radii ought to be 15 ft. The radii at the corners near the scene are larger than that, maybe 25-30 ft.
  3. We can reduce the number of lanes at this section of street to 2 lanes. There are more lanes than needed on this stretch of Eldron and at the adjacent intersection of Eldron and Bayside Lakes Blvd. This stretch would be much safer with 2 lanes, but instead we have an unnecessary right turn lane turning into the parking lot from the south and on the south bound side we have a left turn lane into the parking lot that also is unnecessary.
  4. Street trees should be located between the sidewalk and the vehicle lanes. Street trees cause drivers to slow down and act as a barrier between the people using the sidewalk and the cars.
  5. We should reduce the number of driveways crossing the sidewalk. On this stretch there are 3 driveways into the Publix parking lot that cross the sidewalk in a very short distance. Reducing the number to 1 driveway would work just fine and would make using the sidewalk much safer.
eldron 2-lane

Eldron looks good north of the plaza. It’s 2-lane, has sidewalks on both sides, and is lined with shade trees between the sidewalk and the vehicle lanes on both sides.

eldron widens

But then it’s widened, an unnecessary middle turn lane is added, and the shade trees are moved to wrong side of the sidewalk. All of this completely changes the character of the street from low-speed, pedestrian- and bike- friendly to higher speed, hectic, and not-so-pedestrian- and bike- friendly.

eldron widens to 4-lanes

Keep going a little further south, still next to the Publix plaza, and it’s now 4 lanes. There is absolutely no need for this little 30 mph street to have the additional left turn lane down the middle and the right turn lane on the north-bound side.

The left turn lane down the middle of Eldron and the right turn lane into the Publix plaza on the north-bound side are completely uncalled for on this little 30 mph street. The effect is of course that people will “fly” through here. The wide lanes, large turn radii, additional lanes, and bad placement of the street trees communicate the wrong signals to drivers. When highway-scaled elements are present people will speed, whether they mean to or not, it’s a natural response to the street design! There are also, like I said above, more driveways crossing the sidewalk here than are needed. Minimizing the number of driveways is a great way to make people using the sidewalk much safer.

eldron too many driveways

Three accesses in a row crossing the sidewalk at the Publix plaza is overkill. One would be plenty and would make using the sidewalk much safer.

Why are the turn lanes present here? They were, when the road was built, I’m sure calculated by traffic engineers as “necessary” to accommodate the expected volume of traffic into and out of the commercial properties here during peak hours. However, if the safety of all users of the street were placed at the appropriate priority then things that might cause a delay or impede vehicle speeds at peak hours would actually be viewed as a good thing!  Large curb radii are designed to accommodate delivery vehicles and fire trucks. Delivery vehicles however can be accommodated with small radii in several ways. Stop bars can be held back from the entrances just a little bit to allow the occasional truck to make a wide turn when necessary. Also, a short 2″ high curb can be used in some spots allowing larger trucks to safely hop the curb while still giving the advantages of the smaller radius for the majority of vehicles. A shorter radius slows vehicle speeds around the turn and also shortens the distance to cross the driveway at the sidewalk.

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Larger curb radii increases crossing distances and the likelihood of a collision between cars and people using the sidewalk.

Did any of these design issues specifically contribute to this student’s death? Yes, I think so. Many of these issues likely combined to help make an incident like this more probable than it should have been. From what we are hearing the driver claims he never saw the boy riding his bike on the sidewalk and crossing in front of his vehicle. This means he was probably concentrating on looking for cars to his left and failed to pay attention to the sidewalk to his right. This happens all the time all over Brevard because our streets are too hectic and the vehicle traffic moves too fast. It’s much harder to look at the sidewalk when cars are speeding from too many directions in the vehicle-way. Another reason people don’t look at the sidewalks is because there just aren’t that many bicycles and pedestrians to usually give them any reason to pause. Our car-dominated environment is by nature a very unsafe place to ride or walk.

So what’s the bottom line? Do we care that this boy died here? If so, we need to stop and make changes that will save lives in the future. The changes I’ve mentioned above are low cost solutions. In the long run they would save money because of lower maintenance costs. This is often the case with safe designs vs over-engineered, unsafe designs. These recommended changes would not cause huge traffic tie-ups, but might cost vehicles a few second’s delay during peak traffic times. A really, really good reason to make these improvements is that they will help more 10 year olds to make the bike ride home from school alive!

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Un-Sprawling Brevard Pt 2: Walkable Villages


Barry Watkins, 15 Apr 2017

We live in sprawlville. People die here.

memorial child cyclist killed in palm bay

http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2017/04/05/child-bicycle-struck/100082066/

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can un-sprawl! The sprawl development pattern has been the default way of building things for decades in the US, and a LOT of growth in Brevard occurred during the height of the sprawl era. Fixing all of this and remolding our communities following a walkable pattern is going to be a task that will be with us for a long time. To help us get there, here is our second offering in the “Un-Sprawling Brevard” series:

“Walkable Villages”

We need some walkable villages up in here!

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The main reason sprawl kills people is the sprawl  development pattern favors cars over other transportation modes. It’s plain and simple. If our top priority is making things convenient and easy for car use we will not be making places that are safe for walking or cycling. Our priorities are directly creating the outcomes we are experiencing. Easy, convenient (and necessary) car use = death. Sprawl literally kills people by causing extreme car-dependency, by creating high vehicle speeds, and by bottle-necking car traffic onto a small number of high-volume roads and intersections that are dangerous to cross and to walk and cycle anywhere nearby. Here are just a few other ways sprawl hurts and kills people: https://www.fastcodesign.com/3028661/slicker-city/urban-sprawl-get-fat-stay-poor-and-die-in-car-crashes

Solutions? Here’s a big one – convert our sprawl into walkable villages.

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In all of our cities and our county we need to make a resolution to create walkable places. This works in new and existing development. A great and proven way to accomplish this anywhere in Brevard is to adopt the SmartCode (smartcodecentral.com). Set the SmartCode in motion and allow walkable village centers to emerge throughout our county. Ideally, we would plan a walkable village- or neighborhood- center within an easy walk of homes throughout all of the developed areas in our communities. I would say, set the bar high but be realistic. Set an immediate goal to provide the zoning for a walkable center within a 10 minute walk of at least 50% of our county’s residents. Start in the highest density places and work our way outward.

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We can also stop any new sprawl development from occurring anywhere in our cities and county by setting high walkability standards for new development. Any newly planned development should be planned as part of a walkable neighborhood as defined in the SmartCode. We have plenty of existing car-dominated sprawl. We don’t need to build any more of it. We can meet any perceived “demand” for sprawl by building places that are both walkable and diverse.

Next entry let’s look at a couple of examples of how some standard Brevard sprawl can be converted to walkable villages. 

Barry Watkins, Walkable Brevard, Rockledge, Florida, USA, walkablebrevard@gmail.com, 321-355-2747, http://www.facebook.com/walkablebrevard, http://www.twitter.com/walkablebrevard

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Un-Sprawling Brevard – Part 1: Small Blocks


by Barry Watkins, Feb 18, 2017

Smart Growth America’s most recent “Dangerous by Design” report ranks Brevard county as the #2 most dangerous place for pedestrians in the entire US!! Here’s an article with some of the highlights: http://spacecoastdaily.com/2017/01/report-brevard-county-ranked-no-2-in-the-nation-for-most-hazardous-area-for-pedestrians/

Is this going to finally wake some people up and encourage us to do something about pedestrian safety!? What can we do? Why is Brevard such a dangerous place to walk? The basic answer is fairly straightforward: 1) The car-centric suburban sprawl development pattern actually KILLS PEOPLE!, and 2) Brevard is the poster-child of sprawl! How can we fix it? Un-sprawl! Here’s the first article in a new series where we will address this.

“Un-Sprawling Brevard – Part 1”

How do we reverse and undo the effects of sprawl and make Brevard’s communities more walking-friendly? There are a bunch of things we need to do, but let’s tackle a few important ones, starting with this…

Build things to a human scale starting with small blocks.

Whether we’re talking about commercial areas or residential a very important part of making a place walkable (and bikeable) is to arrange things in small blocks. Buildings should be close to the street around the block perimeter and most of the car parking should be behind buildings in the center of the block.

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Park Avenue, Winter Park. Traditional Commercial street with small blocks.

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Traditional small blocks in Cocoa Village, Cocoa, Florida

Much of sprawl is of course the exact opposite of this. Very long disconnected blocks. Our commercial areas are broken up by oversized parking lots in the front of buildings.

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Average sprawl strip mall

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Average sprawl neighborhood the way we’ve been building for the last few decades. No block structure. No direct connections to walk out to main road from homes backing up to main road. No commercial nearby to walk or bike to for miles around anyway!

Small blocks create more direct paths from one place to another which helps to shorten walking and cycling trips. Sprawl many times creates long, winding paths from one place to another and turns what could be an easy walk into a laborious and difficult task.

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The above famous map illustrates a familiar occurrence in suburbia. The map comes from the article “Sprawl Madness: Two Houses Share Backyard, Separated by 7 Miles of Roads” by Angie Schmitt on Streetsblog: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/02/28/sprawl-madness-two-houses-share-backyard-separated-by-7-miles-of-roads/ In the article, Ms. Schmitt points out that the two houses at “A” and “B” back up to each other, but to get from one to the other takes a 7 mile journey because of the disconnected sprawl streets in their surroundings! This same effect commonly unnecessarily lengthens trips to the local grocery store from your house or to the Wal-Mart backing up to your neighborhood. A walkable development pattern with small blocks fixes this.

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This familiar diagram illustrates connected traditional small-blocks on the top half vs disconnected sprawl on the bottom half (Source: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/05085/chapt6.cfm)

Can existing development that’s been built in a sprawl fashion be saved? It is difficult, but where there is the public will to bring change it can be done. Setting new standards in place will accomplish a lot. Commercial properties built in the last generation have a relatively short shelf-life. The fad architectural styles they are typically built in go out of style in a few years and they need to be revamped and even completely rebuilt every so often or they lose their value. Every time another property is ready to be redeveloped having the right standards in place gives us the opportunity to affect change in the right direction. The SmartCode model land development code (smartcodecentral.com) has a block perimeter standard that will help create small blocks. Our county and all of our cities need to have a standard for block sizes and over time the standard will help our communities evolve toward greater walkability.

Besides just setting a new standard we also need to look at our neighborhoods and existing developed areas in detail and look for ways to be proactive about creating smaller blocks and shorter walking paths from place to place. In sprawl there are some common barriers to walkability that can be overcome with a little thought and these can often be remedied without much cost. In residential neighborhoods that have long winding roads but lack in connectivity we can in effect make smaller blocks by providing pedestrian cut-throughs where they make sense to help make it easier to walk or bicycle from home to shopping and other destinations. Let’s look at an example of how this can work:

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In the screenshot above from Google Maps you can see these houses back up very close to the Longleaf Elementary School in Melbourne as the crow flies. The sprawl street pattern built here however forces a child to walk 2.3 miles all the way around and along a busy arterial to get from home to school. That’s a 45 min. walk! If there were a direct route across the wetlands and through the apartment complex behind the school the walk would be shortened to about 1700 ft. or a 6 minute walk!

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How hard would this be to accomplish? I’d say pretty easy. You would need to get permission from two home owners to put a path in between their houses and then build an elevated walkway across the wetland. The apartments already have an access to the school thru a gate so that’s all that’s needed. Why not make the trip shorter and safer for all the children who live in this neighborhood that go to this school? It would be fairly easy and inexpensive to do. Basically the walkway could be a great project for one or a couple of our great civic groups. Why not? There are of course hundreds of similar ideas that would work all over Brevard, and these can and should be done.

In existing commercial areas with large parking lots the usually over-sized and under-used parking lot can be broken up into small blocks. Then traditional, walkable, small-lot development can be introduced. These next three pictures show how it can be done in stages: (Source: https://livingurbanism.wordpress.com/tag/seth-harry/)

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Existing sprawl commercial parking lots

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Define blocks and allow infill development to occur as the market allows.

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Over time the parking lots are transformed into walkable urbanism!

The key to seeing this happen is it has to be planned! Our city and county governments have to take the lead and decide where they want walkable development to occur and then code for it. The SmartCode model code is a great example of how it’s done. We just need some champions in our local governments and planning boards to stand up and decide that this is what we want and need. Do we want to stay on the top of the “Dangerous By Design” list year after year? I don’t think so. Pass this along to your local officials if you agree. Contact Walkable Brevard if you’d like help with a walkability project in your area.

Barry Watkins, Walkable Brevard, Rockledge, Florida, email: walkablebrevard@gmail.com, ph: 321-355-2747, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/walkablebrevard, Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/walkablebrevard, WordPress: https://walkablebrevard.wordpress.com

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It’s All About The Codes!


Transformations like in the above picture are what Walkable Brevard is working for around here. Good coding in our county and all of our cities will transform sprawl places into walkable and livable places. It’s all about the codes! Anyone that wants to build a walkable place or help to transform existing sprawl into walkable places can’t do it unless the codes allow it. In most of Brevard good walkable design is actually not only difficult, it’s downright illegal. Time to change it?

Sign The Petition! http://www.facebook.com/walkablebrevard http://twitter.com/walkablebrevard 

Photo source: http://bettercities.net/news-opinion/blogs/robert-steuteville/21690/sprawl-repair-essential-unavoidable

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EGAD!


Walkable Brevard is doing a walkability study of Eau Gallie Arts District. Please feel free to participate and give us your impressions of EGAD. Tell us what you love about EGAD that you wouldn’t want to change, and also give us your thoughts on potential for future improvements regarding walkability. Feel free to post your thoughts and comments right here on this site, on facebook.com/groups/walkablebrevard, on twitter.com/walkablebrevard, or send them to us by email at walkablebrevard@gmail.com. Pictures are welcome and encouraged! Thanks, everyone! -Barry20160627_214500.jpg

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We’re Building a Walkable Community in Brevard


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We’re building a walkable community in #Brevard! Come out to our project update meeting Tue. 2/23, 7:30pm in Rockledge to find out more. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/walkable-brevard-project-update-tickets-22023429671 www.twitter.com/scwalkablecomm, facebook.com/groups/scwalkablecomm

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How To Build A Bus Shelter


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Jim Liesenfelt of Space Coast Area Transit sent us some information on how to build bus shelters. We don’t need SCAT’s permission to do it, we just need to get a plan approved by the city or county depending on the location. Here’s a good starting point from FDOT on how to design good facilities: http://www.floridatsn.org/fdot/accessing-transit-design-handbook-for-florida-bus-passenger-facilities-version-iii/ If you’d like to help get shelters, benches, or other improvements made to a local bus stop let us know. We have a couple of things in the works. We need volunteers and we will be collecting donations for specific projects soon. -Barry Watkins, Walkable Brevard, walkablebrevard@gmail.com, 321-355-2747

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