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bobliocatt

Florida city streets not a walk in the park

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By DAVID BAUERLEIN

The Times-Union

The sky is sunny and blue, the temperature is crisp, and here in Jacksonville it's a nice time of year to lace on a pair of comfortable shoes for a brisk walk or run.

When you reach the corner, look both ways before crossing the street. Then look again. According to a private study released Thursday called "Mean Streets," the Jacksonville metropolitan area ranks as the ninth-most dangerous city in the nation for pedestrian safety.

"It does kind of surprise me," said Christine Chapman, who said she goes for runs in downtown and finds that part of the city is pedestrian- friendly.

On the other hand -- or foot, as it were -- Chapman said all bets are off in places that lack sidewalks.

"High risk," she said. "In other words, you have to realize that it's going to either be you or the car, and chances are, the car is going to win that one."

The Surface Transportation Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., has been releasing "Mean Street" rankings every two years since 1996. The non-profit organization advocates for transportation spending that promotes alternatives to using a car.

The study is based on federal statistics for pedestrian fatalities in metropolitan areas. For Jacksonville, the metropolitan area encompasses Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties. It does not include bicyclists.

Northeast Florida has had at least 21 pedestrian fatalities this year, including three in the past week in Clay County.

Researchers figure out what the chances are for a pedestrian to be killed based on the number of residents in the metropolitan area and how often people walk to work.

The Jacksonville metro area has fared poorly in past Mean Streets studies, ranking as the sixth most dangerous for pedestrians in the 2002 report.

Susie Wiles, an aide to Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, took the findings in stride. She said Peyton strongly favors funding alternative means of transportation in addition to roads for cars.

"While it's always a disappointment when your community is reflected poorly in a national study, there appears to be a certain amount of subjectivity in the study, and it should be taken with a grain of salt," Wiles said.

She noted the Better Jacksonville Plan, which voters approved in 2000 with a half-cent sales tax increase, contains $20 million for building sidewalks. Through October, the city has built 90 miles of sidewalks and will build about 60 miles more. The Better Jacksonville Plan also will build pedestrian overpasses.

Federal funding also pays for sidewalk construction, though Peyton successfully advocated shifting $3.5 million in federal dollars away from sidewalks to pay for installing decorative lighting on three downtown bridges in time for the Super Bowl. Peyton said the Better Jacksonville Plan was paying for projects that had been targeted for federal funding.

Looking ahead, whether to build sidewalks on both sides of street-widening projects in the Better Jacksonville Plan will be a question faced by the mayor. To date, Peyton has favored having sidewalks on both sides, but because of increased costs, it might be a choice between doing the project with a sidewalk on just one side of the street or not doing a road construction project at all, Wiles said.

The metropolitan area deemed by the study as the "meanest" for walkers is Orlando. It's followed by three other Florida metros: Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

Dennis Scott, the pedestrian bicycle coordinator for the state Department of Transportation, said experts are trying to solve the problem by upgrading the roads and fixing problems such as lighting, according to The Associated Press. They also are looking to make room for bicyclists and pedestrians on the roads.

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Walk at your own risk

A Surface Transportation Policy Project report ranks the Jacksonville metropolitan area as the ninth most dangerous in the nation for pedestrians. Boston is the safest of 50 metro areas that were studied. Here are the 10 most dangerous, according to the report.

1. Orlando

2. Tampa-St. Petersburg

3. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton

4. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale

5. Memphis, Tenn.

6. Atlanta

7. Greensboro/ Winston-Salem, N.C.

8. Houston-Galveston

9. Jacksonville

10. Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.

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david.bauerleinjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4581

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stor..._17347534.shtml.

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Every Thursday, I walk from my piano lesson in eastern West Palm to the Tri-Rail station on the western edge of downtown. It's not that bad of a walk, but consider that some roads are closed, making it alot easier for me. But Okeechobee Blvd. turns into a 6 lane divided highway near Cityplace, and it's quite ominous for a pedestrian.

Jacksonville is definitely alot better, at least in its downtown area. But Tinseltown and all that mess is another story.

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Nine of the top 10 most dangerous cities for pedestrians are from the South -- not surprising, unfortunately.

Good to see that Jacksonville is aggressively paving new sidewalks. Is the city incorporating any traffic calming measures into the street upgrades?

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I'm surprised to see Miami on that list.....I've never been but I always imagined it to be a very pedestrian friendly place. At least it seems that way on TV.

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As I've said any other threads, Miami does have some very walkable neighborhoods. Little Havana, South Beach, Coconut Grove etc... These are the places where the tourist go and the places you usually see on TV. Like everywhere else though, we do have our problems with sprawl.

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