Retrofitting Suburbia: FDOT Embracing Complete Streets

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP

Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but it’s streets have been everything but sunshine for cyclists and pedestrians. Characterized by disconnected land uses and wide highways built for speed, Florida’s four largest cities (Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Orlando) are also the top four most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the country. According to a recent study by Smart Growth America, nearly 5,200 pedestrians were killed in traffic-related accidents in Florida between 2003 and 2012.

In September 2014, with 63% of fatal pedestrian accidents in the state occurring on arterial roadways, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) adopted a Complete Streets Policy that requires its transportation system design to finally consider local land development patterns and built form.

With a goal to promote safety, quality of life, and economic development, the FDOT teamed up with Smart Growth America to create a Complete Streets Implementation Plan to assist in modifying its manuals, guidelines and related documents governing the planning, design, construction and operation of its transportation facilities.

While this process is expected to take as much as two more years to complete, the change in FDOT’s mindset towards accommodating the needs for all users of the transportation system has become clear with many recent roadway projects. One such example is the November 2015 completion of the US 92/International Speedway Boulevard Pedestrian Improvement Project in Daytona Beach. This 8-lane thoroughfare may be one of the most unique suburban arterials within the country. Serving as the main connection between Interstate 95 and the World’s Most Famous Beach, the five mile stretch of highway is fronted by three colleges and universities, a major medical center, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach International Airport and divides downtown Daytona Beach before terminating at an oceanfront lined with hotels, restaurants and entertainment uses. Over the years the number of pedestrians attempting to cross 8-lanes of traffic that moves at 50 miles an hour has increased, causing the area to become a center of major accidents.

To alleviate the situation, the FDOT recently invested $17.2 million in upgrading its design to better accommodate pedestrian, bicycle and transit users, while still maintaining its ability to move freight between the city and Interstate 95. Open ditches on both sides of the street were converted into a closed drainage system, allowing the existing 5 foot sidewalks to be replaced with 12 foot sidewalks, buffered from the road with landscaping and fencing, channeling pedestrians to marked crossing points. A pedestrian bridge was also added that will one day connect the 101,000-seat Daytona International Speedway with One Daytona, a 300,000 square-foot mixed use development currently under construction. Additional features include lighting, aesthetic treatments and intersection improvements.

Despite FDOT’s investment, the creation of a complete street can’t achieve its full impact within local land use and zoning regulations being modified to complement the transportation investment intended to serve the surrounding context. In 2015, the City of Daytona Beach adopted a new land development code that includes limited front yard building setbacks that will ultimately alter the character of this corridor by making it more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. Here is a look at the pending evolution of this FDOT highway, which serves as an example of what may be in the future for many of Florida’s traditionally deadly and characterless suburban arterial roadways.