A partnership with the University of South Florida is one prong in a multifaceted plan for improving pedestrian and cycling safety in Sarasota.
City transportation officials want to change the way Sarasota thinks about bicycle and pedestrian safety and motor vehicle crashes.
Chief Transportation Planner Colleen McGue is quick to cite the region’s ranking as the fourth most dangerous place in the U.S. for pedestrians in a 2019 report. It’s a point of concern she’s sought to address in developing long-term transportation goals for the city.
She said it can be easy for some to see the statistics — 194 pedestrian deaths for Sarasota-North Port-Bradenton from 2008-2017, according to Smart Growth America — and not think about the significance of each life lost.
“I think it’s important for us to see the statistics as more than just a number and recognize these are actual people who are being killed in the road, oftentimes in very preventable situations,” she said.
That’s why, in July and August, the city teamed with University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research on workshops focused on messaging surrounding bicycle and pedestrian safety. The events, which included media members, law enforcement and transportation professionals, sought to emphasize what the USF team characterized as issues with the framing of crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians.
Julie Bond, a senior research associate with USF, said in the presentation that conversations about fatal crashes can minimize the role of drivers while disproportionately scrutinizing the behavior of people on bike or on foot. By describing crashes as “accidents,” people can think of the death as the byproduct of bad luck, rather than the consequence of road design or driver behavior.
The workshops came shortly after city staff recommended the adoption of a “vision zero” policy, which establishes a goal of eliminating traffic-related fatalities, as part of the proposed Sarasota in Motion transportation master plan. Elected officials have been hesitant to embrace staff’s transportation vision. Last month, the City Commission declined to adopt Sarasota in Motion in part because of a lack of emphasis on vehicular transportation.
Although she said public surveys have shown a desire to prioritize road safety in Sarasota, she acknowledged making meaningful progress can be difficult.
“What’s the greater good here?” McGue said. “If my commute time is 30 seconds longer because it increases the safety for people who are walking and driving on the same road, am I willing to give that up?”