It seems altogether fitting that Republican Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who called projects that encourage bicycling and walking “not in the national interest,” is from Florida.
The Times story, headlined “On Wide Florida Roads, Running for Dear Life,” cited a recent survey by Transportation for America, a nonprofit safety advocacy organization.
“The Orlando-Kissimmee region was first out of 52 in the rankings of most dangerous pedestrian regions, with more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009,” said the Times story by Lizette Alvarez. “This translates to an annual fatality rate of 3 per 100,000 people. Second was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, followed by Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach.”
But Mica, who represents the 7th Congressional District along Florida’s northeast coast that includes St. Augustine in the north and Daytona Beach in the south, announced on July 7 that his proposed long-term federal transportation bill will eliminate dedicated funding for projects that encourage bicycling and walking. (See May 7 post, “Federal bike path funds in peril.”)
The bill, which would cover the next six years of federal highway appropriations, would do away with the Transportation Enhancement Program, removing the requirement that 10 percent of the roughly $32 billion collected in federal gas tax dollars go toward bike lanes, sidewalks and the like. “Not in the national interest,” he says.
David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America, was quoted by the Times as saying that much of Florida was rapidly built up during an era of auto-centric design, so “the tendency there has been to build the big wide arterials; you have these long superblocks and you can get up to a good speed.”
Pedestrian crossings on these wide, high-speed roads are few and far between, sometimes as much as a half-mile between stop lights. So pedestrians literally risk their lives to dart through a lull in the fast-moving traffic. Some don’t make it.
Mica may not have gotten the message on the need to make Florida more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, but the folks in Orlando have. After the region’s top ranking in the previous pedestrian fatality survey, issued in 2009, Orlando moved ahead in building miles of sidewalks, creating overpasses, improving lighting, setting up audible pedestrian signals and narrowing roads to calm traffic.
“We are trying to change the culture and this thinking that is car-centric,” Frank Consoli, Orlando’s traffic operations engineer, told the Times. “Any death is too many. We don’t want to see that. We don’t want Orlando also to get a reputation that we have problems here. We want to make it as safe as possible.”
But it will be hard to change that car-centric culture when one of the state’s most prominent congressmen is wedded to a transportation policy that favors cars and trucks over any other means of locomotion and who has family ties to the oil industry that fuels those cars and trucks.
And if Mica and like-minded Republicans succeed in pushing through his long-term federal transportation bill, the city planners aiming to make Orlando more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians will be hard-pressed for cash to do it.