Orange County, UCF to move forward with pedestrian safety plan

The intersection of Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard. Photo by Alex Storer.

The Orange County government and UCF agreed Nov. 29 to move forward with a pedestrian safety plan that aims to cut down on accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists on roads near the university.

“We’re undertaking this project because the safety of our students is a top priority,” said Mark Schlueb, a spokesman for UCF. “Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard carry heavy loads of fast-moving traffic that doesn’t mix well with pedestrians and bicyclists. We believe these improvements recommended by traffic engineers are the best way to make our students safer.”

More than 250 crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists occurred near UCF between 2006 and 2014, according to a study conducted by Orange County. Those crashes caused 207 injuries and at least eight deaths. At least one more person – a 25-year-old from DeBary – was killed on University Boulevard in July.

A study conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) found that the rate of pedestrian crashes on Alafaya Trail is more than four times the Florida average.

The plan, which carries an anticipated total cost of around $11 million, will be built in two phases. The first phase of the plan, which passed the Orange County Board of County Commissioners by a unanimous 7-0 vote, includes a $3.8 million commitment from UCF, along with $4.4 million from Orange County.

“Funding from UCF and FDOT is essential to the completion of Phase I,” said Brian Sanders, chief transportation planner for Orange County. “At this point, the available funding is sufficient for all improvements designated for the Phase I project.”

Phase I includes several improvements and changes to stretches of Alafaya Trail, University Boulevard and McCulloch Road near UCF. The university plans to install more UCF-branded signage in the area to remind drivers they’re near a college campus, including a gateway at the entrance to UCF at the intersection of University and Alafaya.

UCF will also pay for new lighting to make pedestrians more visible to drivers, pedestrian safety educational programs and two mid-block pedestrian road crossings with signal lights, one on Alafaya Trail near Solon Drive and another on University Boulevard near Turbine Drive.

Orange County will foot the bill for the rest of Phase I, which includes more pedestrian-scale lighting, improvements and extensions of sidewalks and landscaping, pedestrian fencing along medians to discourage jaywalking, and changes to the intersection of University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail to make right turns sharper than 90 degrees.

Other planned changes to the area include adding flashing yellow right-turn arrows to remind drivers to check for pedestrians in the crosswalk before turning right and a ban on U-turns at certain intersections.

For Kaitlyn Kilpatrick, a senior double majoring in biomedical sciences and health sciences, pedestrian safety is more than just statistics and government studies. In October 2015, she was struck by a van while biking through the intersection of Alafaya Trail and MacKay Boulevard.

She said the van was stopped and ready to turn onto Alafaya, and that she couldn’t see the driver through his tinted windows. Kilpatrick then pedaled out into the crosswalk. When she was in front of the middle of the van’s bumper, the driver suddenly accelerated and sent her off her bike and into the street. Kilpatrick suffered a fractured hand and a broken bike.

“When I got hit I was an emotional wreck because I had only been in Orlando two months, and it was right before my birthday … so it was really devastating to me,” Kilpatrick, 21, said. “To think that if someone [had] just looked both ways that it wouldn’t even have happened kind of angers me.”

Kilpatrick said the accident, in addition to physical injury, has had a lasting psychological impact.

“I was really scared to ride a bike afterwards and it took about six months for me to ride my bike on my own to campus instead of exclusively shuttles,” she said. “I still have bad mini-panic attacks when I’m in the car with someone and a car pulls out onto the road because the accident plays out in my mind. I didn’t think that it would affect me for so long after that.”

Kilpatrick re-fractured her hand four months after the crash.

“I was lucky I didn’t need surgery,” she said.

The pedestrian safety plan, which is designed to cut down on incidents like the one that injured Kilpatrick, doesn’t yet have a specific time frame for completion. However, Schlueb said construction is expected to start in the summer of 2017. According to Sanders, a more specific plan for completion of the project should be produced within the next week.