The parents of Sunset Park have spoken and the overwhelming response was that they don’t feel their kids are safe walking to school.

Roughly 40 parents gathered for a “traffic” meeting at Sunset Park Elementary on April 20. Also attending were Commissioner Scott Boyd, Tyrone Smith of OCPS, Orange County Traffic Engineering Manager Ruby Rozier, a couple of teachers, a handful of OCSO deputies, two school principals, three local business representatives, plus a couple of additional representatives from the school district. Commissioner Boyd scheduled the meeting due to the volume of complaints he has received regarding traffic to the school and at the intersection of 535 and Overstreet.

I have mentioned my main issues regarding this many times on this blog. If you would like to download a pdf of the cumulative package of graphics and writing I have distributed about these issues, please click below. The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that the school parking lot is not the problem. It starts out on CR535 where most students are transported from only two directions, south and west (see our zone at https://www.ocps.net/fs/governmental/pupil/Documents/Sunset%20Park%20ES.pdf) through a 55mph zone. CR535 was designed for speed. Pedestrians were an afterthought.

On important element that should help us is that we are located within Horizon West which was founded on pedestrian principles such as neighborhood schools, villages, and pedestrian and cycling safety.

Ms. Rozier asked, by a raise of hands, whether we feel our children are safe accessing the school. She seemed completely surprised by the response that we feel they are not. For the next hour or so, parents complained, commented, and asked questions. We were even joined by three Subway employees (from the adjacent shopping center) who engaged the discussion.

Suggestions included adding lanes (I think Commissioner Boyd mentioned I would blow a head gasket on this one), moving the crosswalk to the opposite side of Overstreet (eliminating two wide crossings for one narrow crossing), adding left-hand turn signals from Overstreet, staggering release times (problem with buses and parents with more than one student), and changing county policy to add a school zone as part of CR535. In my opinion, most of these have complications except for placing the crosswalk on the opposite side of Overstreet.

As for some of my specific comments, such as the 90′ wide bus entrance/exit driveway, Ms. Rozier responded that it was needed for emergency vehicles to enter the property. Though a few minutes later, when asked about traffic blocking Overstreet in case of an emergency, Deputy Spear stated, “We’re going to get in there.” That sort of makes having 90′ of pavement with dedicated left and right-hand turn lanes at a bus driveway for only six buses all turning in the same direction unnecessary.

Regarding the need for the barricade on Overstreet behind Walgreens where there is no buffer between the sidewalk and street, which seems like the most immediate and easy fix to me, Ms. Rozier replied that a barricade would be a maintenance issue, and Mr. Smith replied that children would climb on it and fall in the road.

As for a lack of an area of refuge within 535, Ms. Rozier asked me personally why I would propose or want that since the crossing signal lasts long enough for the children to cross.

Towards the end, one mother, Leann Flynn, added that we wanted to hear their suggestions. Ms. Rozier’s response: “We’ve already implemented our suggestions.”

Obviously, the school’s location on the opposite side of the freeway known as CR535 is a big problem. As confirmed by Mr. Smith in the meeting, the land was given to the school board. And while I understand why the school board has to save money (even doing so by purchasing land under non-assuming names), according to my research, this ‘donation’ occurred in 2003 long after the plan for Horizon West was adopted.

The second problem with the location is that there is no secondary outlet from the school. Everyone must go through the big intersection at CR535 and Overstreet. Ms. Rozier indicated that there is one in the masterplan as part of a phase of Harvest Bible Chapel.

At the conclusion, Ruby read her list of items to look into:

  • Left turn signals from Overstreet
  • Graduated speed limits on 535 (design speed is very high however)
  • Review the turning radius at the intersetion, though she mentioned that the buses need a large turning radius. (I have looked this up, and it is much less than what exists here. This is evident as one drives behind school buses to Bridgewater Middle School through residential streets.)
  • Review roundabout criteria (though we have too much volume however)
  • Resurface pavement markings

And Commissioner Boyd will look into changing the County policy to have a school zone out on CR535.

Deputy Spear concluded that there are “compounding issues” that involve the O.C. Sheriff’s Department, the County Commission, school officials, and County Engineering, and that no fix will happen overnight. He promised to work with the principal of Sunset Park to make entering and exiting the school a smoother transition. I have seen an upgraded presence of OCSO since the meeting.

I also want to add that after the meeting, it was mentioned by a deputy that the sidewalks leading to the school are not wide enough for bicycling.

The meeting illustrated a couple of issues to me, again:

  • What seems to often be a lack of coordination between planners, transportation staff, and school siting agents
  • How we design for extremes. The turning radius designed to such an extreme is really no different than building a parking lot so large to accommodate Christmas Eve shopping volumes or cutting trees on a small street to accommodate two large buses passing each other.

I envision a day that many more can safely walk to school from some of these neighborhoods just across the “freeway”.

April 20th, 2012

Protect the Journey

The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, with a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, produced a video, “Safe Routes to School”. The seventeen minute video features spokespeople from our region on the importance of policy making that enables and advocacy that encourages children to walk or bike to school.

Within the video, you will see clips from our intersection at County Road 535 and Overstreet Road that children and parents must contend with to get to Sunset Park Elementary. In addition, Leann Flynn, another Sunset Park parent, and I have brief parts, and our District 1 Planning and Zoning Commissioner, Richard Geller, speaks to the siting of the school.

On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, national traffic calming expert and executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Dan Burden, hosted a walkability audit of the intersection of County Road 535 and Overstreet Road here in Horizon West for several concerned parents of students attending Sunset Park Elementary.

During the brief walking audit, Dan, who indicated “gross omissions”, pointed out several problems but also shared practical solutions to implement.

The only thing as disappointing as our reason for having him there was the lack of participation by the school’s administration particularly after multiple email invitations and a phone call. We received no explanation, excuse, or reason for their lack of interest. It would be nice to have their partnership in pressuring the County for improvements for life safety for their students.

If you missed Beth Kassab’s Orlando Sentinel column “Suburbs Shouldn’t Settle For Riskier Roads” on March 4, you should know that the accompanying video was shot during the audit. I found it particularly illustrative with moms and a stroller walking in the foreground and vehicles zooming both directions in the background. Great job Beth and George Skene of the Sentinel!

Also, click to see an earlier assessment I performed on this intersection aslt fall. I feel Dan was able to better boil down the problems to immediate needs with solutions.

Please click for Dan’s assessment of and suggestions for this intersection. This will launch a PDF.

 

On Tuesday, February 27, Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute came to Winter Garden and spoke at three workshops on taming our streets. These ‘Livability and the Role of Transportation’ workshops were compact and relevant and filled with visual representations.Session 1 was ‘Street Design and Your Business’ in which Dan explained the economics of place, or the correlation between street design and economic growth. He stated, “For the economy to grow, we can’t keep growing our traffic.”He shared the statistics that while we once fled the cities, people are returning in droves. Regarding economic growth, streets have to be beautiful in order to attract people and to attract merchants. This is done with sidewalks, vegetation, and speeds appropriate to the land use. The towns that make will attract are the ones that implement these types of elements. As you can recognize, healthier communities are those in which people linger and spend more time.Dan showed two photos side by side. In one, homes were built facing the street, and in the other, homes were turned away from it. He explained that even though both roadways may be collectors, one costs lives and provides no wealth (and raises blood pressure) while the other provides wealth and protects lives. It was easy to decipher the street design elements that made these possible.

He showed several examples of cities and towns putting good street design into practice. It’s important to remember that the average person will outlive his ability to drive a car by 7 to 9 years. If you don’t live in a location where you can get around by other methods, you lose much independence and mobilization.

‘Street Design And Your School’ was the title of the afternoon session held at Lake Whitney Elementary. We learned that as much as 30% of rush hour traffic is attributed to transporting students to school. Dan showed us practical solutions that have been implemented to relieve traffic pressure at schools around the country. One popular tool is the roundabout. Other solutions were curb extensions, bike lanes of a contrasting color, mini circles, mountable medians, highly visible crosswalks, close vertical walls constructed of islands or trees, and large gutter pans (which make the road feel narrower to slow traffic).

Regarding roundabouts, specifically, these eliminate accidents by 90%, move 30% more traffic than a conventional intersection, and increase rather than decrease the adjacent property values as is common at busy intersections. Discussion ensued over roundabouts, as there is some confusion out there regarding roundabouts versus traffic circles and rotaries.

The last session of the day ‘Street Design and your Neighborhood’ drew the smallest crowd but concluded with good discussion. During this session, Dan asked the audience to name our values. Some that were mentioned were community, safety, walkability, green space, convenience, health, good schools, and prosperity. Yet, we all clearly saw how we are not building from this set of values. And to borrow a quote than Dan borrowed from John Steinbeck, “America is out of sync with its values.” Dan encouraged us that by identifying our values, we can lay out a whole town. For example, if we do indeed care about health and safety, we would work hard to implement complete streets which accommodate multiple modes of transportation – pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. These values we claim to hold dear should become part of our design palette.

Walking Audit of Winter Garden after first workshop

They might seem slightly cartoonish, but I do love these bike racks in Downtown Winter Garden. Being that the West Orange Trail and therefore biking are, quite literally, central to this community, I think the racks are highly appropriate. Besides it’s nice to see artwork and style in public amenities.

Last fall, the McDonald’s restaurant here in Lakeside Village of Horizon West was constructed and opened. It’s built identically to the style and site plan of the McDonald’s in Winter Garden Village. This is not an anti McDonald’s tirade. In fact, I enjoy their fries as much as anyone. And it’s not completely an anti drive-through tirade. After all, I have kids and sometimes that’s just plain easier. This is a ding on the developer and county officials who approved the site plan for this restaurant.


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McDonald’s wanted a drive-through in this ‘pedestrian-friendly’ location. They got it. Sad thing is, at this location, an individual outside of the vehicle gets twice as much exposure to moving vehicles as an individual at a typical suburban fast food restaurant with a drive-through!

During a typical drive-through process (and this is not great), a motorist must enter the property from the main thoroughfare, drive down the right side of the building, place the order at the rear of the building, drive around the left side of the building to pick up the order, and exit onto the main thoroughfare. Each individual walking to the property or coming from a parked car has one chance of exposure to each car moving through the drive-through.

At the new McDonald’s in our pedestrian-friendly Horizon West, each person walking from a parked car or from off property has double the exposure! No matter which vehicular access a motorist enters from, they must drive all the way around the building before placing an order. Then of course the process takes them around the building again after picking up the food order.

What gives?! This is worse than the usual suburban template. How was this allowed to happen here in Horizon West?

It’s time that we demand better. All drive-throughs are auto-oriented, but it’s time to think creatively about how they can be better integrated. The one-size-fits-all approach and standard cookie cutter template are no longer good enough.

If County officials won’t uphold the foundations of Horizon West, we have to remind them. And we have to stay ahead of their approval process by understanding what is at stake.

By the way, below are photos of fast food restaurants elsewhere with drive-through configurations that better separate motorists from individuals on foot in the parking lot or walking to the restaurant. It is possible to do better.

Beaverton, OR:


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Orlando, FL:


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They’re out there…I took this photo of a model home in a rather new neighborhood here in West Orange County. There are several things going on here. Quite literally. There are too many competing elements, and all are striving to be celebrated on their own.

Let’s go beyond that though and try to focus on the front entry feature. See the second photo. We won’t discuss the glazing above the door (windows) either. [...]

March 1st, 2012

Good Place Clue

One measurement I use to define a good place (composed of great placemaking elements) is the distance I am willing to park my car from my destination. At my grocery store or any strip retail center, I park as close to the door as possible. If I see someone leaving, I will even wait for the closer spot they are leaving behind. However, in a great place, like downtown Winter Garden, for example, I don’t mind parking several blocks and often intentionally park further away than necessary from my intended destination because I know I will enjoy the walk from the car. At this particular great place, I enjoy my stroll past large display windows, cafe tables brimming with happy diners, and often a band playing from the central pavilion. A delightful walk I never intentionally avoid.

You may know how I fret over the intersection of Overstreet Road and County Road 535 as it is the connection between our neighborhood school, Sunset Park Elementary, and the residents of 1500 homes zoned for it. A ten minute walk to school is sliced by interstate like driving conditions making walking to school simply not feasible for some of us.

I’m happy to share that our intersection will be emphasized during a day of street design workshops coming up in Winter Garden on Tuesday, February 28.

The workshops are free and I urge any concerned parents, business owners, school officials, or community leaders to attend. Each will feature national traffic calming expert Dan Burden.

The second workshop of the day will be Street Design & Your School. How does street design affect health, safety, and access to schools? In this, Dan will make a presentation on best practices for creating safe access to schools with a focus on street and intersection design, traffic-calming practices, smoother flow for drop-off/pick-up, posted speed limits versus “design” speeds, and school access for cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians. An optional walkability audit will be offered following the presentation. This workshop will last from 2:15 to 3:00 p.m at Lake Whitney Elementary. An optional walking audit will follow until 3:30pm.

The techniques discussed would benefit pedestrians AND motorists who use the intersection.

I am planning to attend all three workshops, and I’m really excited to hear these presentations from Dan Burden. You can find information on each one in my previous post. I invite you to attend as well. Until this intersection gets the negative exposure it deserves, nothing will happen to improve it. And until it is improved, many of the children and parents who live nearby miss the opportunity and benefits of walking to school because of the danger it imposes.

 

On February 28, the public is invited to a series of free workshops that will address how residents and community leaders in West Orange can leverage streets and transportation investments to create places that are more supportive of economic development, active living, neighborhood health and safe access to schools.

Dan Burden, executive director of the non-profit Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, will share how communities throughout the country and Central Florida are approaching transportation projects as a means to add value to land and improve quality of life for residents and visitors, while moving traffic smoothly and efficiently.

The workshops will explain how traffic-calming measures, “road diets,” intersections, trails, bike lanes, sidewalks and other street design elements affect commercial districts, school areas and residential neighborhoods. Two of the workshops will conclude with optional “walking audits,” during which participants assess nearby streets to identify firsthand some of the barriers to safe, productive streets, and to discuss ways to overcome those barriers. Members of the public are invited to attend one or all of the workshops, which are scheduled as follows:

• Street Design & Your Business
Tuesday, February 28
8:30 to 9:15 a.m. (with optional walking audit until 9:45 a.m.)
City of Winter Garden City Hall, 300 W. Plant Street, Winter Garden, FL

StreetDesignWorkshop_Business_Flyer_2012-02-28mid-cmprs (PDF)

• Street Design & Your School
Tuesday, February 28
2:15 to 3:00 p.m. (with optional walking audit until 3:30 p.m.)
Lake Whitney Elementary School, 1351 Windermere Road, Winter Garden, FL

StreetDesignWorkshop_Schools_Flyer_2012-02-28mid-cmprs (PDF)

• Street Design & Your Neighborhood
Tuesday, February 28
6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Children’s Lighthouse/People of Faith, 220 Windermere Road, Winter Garden, FL(near Roper YMCA and Southwest Aquatics)

StreetDesignWorkshop_Neighborhoods_Flyer_2012-02-28mid-cmprs (PDF)

The events are free and open to all members of the public, including business operators, homeowners, students and parents, school officials, elected leaders, healthcare providers, municipal staff, consultants, emergency responders, seniors’ representatives, property owners, parks and recreation providers, and more.

The workshops are supported by the City of Winter Garden, Safe Streets West Orange and the WALC Institute. For more information, email SafeStreetsWestOrange@gmail.com.