The Florida Department of Transportation is partnering with the University of North Florida to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in Marion County.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office signed an $18,388.56 contract with FDOT and UNF September 6, 2018, as part of FDOT’s Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow campaign. This increases the number of patrol deputies in two major accident areas, Maricamp Road from SE 25th Avenue to County Road 25 and Highway 200 from Interstate 75 to County Road 484.
FDOT Alert Today Florida team documents said the contract pays overtime for officers to educate through enforcement while warnings and citations are used as a last resort.
The campaign is part of a larger initiative to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on Florida’s roads; the program also includes engineering such as the reconstruction of streets, enforcement and emergency services.
In May 2018, Marion County was identified by UNF’s Institute of Police Technology and Management as having higher-than-average pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries. Marion County ranks in the top 25 counties in the state for traffic crashes resulting in serious and fatal injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists. For that reason, Marion is a focus county for the State’s pedestrian and bicycle safety program, said Al Roop, assistant director of UNF’s Institute of Police Technology and Management,
Through the grant, sheriff’s deputies on the traffic unit are conducting “high visibility enforcement details” in the danger zones, which ensures the public can see the higher levels of law enforcement activity and as a result drive safer.
The sheriff’s office’s goal is to educate the public on traffic laws to help them be safer drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.
FDOT’s Alert Today Florida team documents said many people are involved in traffic crashes because they are not familiar with traffic laws put in place to protect their safety, such as motorists stopping behind the crosswalk at a red light before making a right turn. However, it is the expectation that seeing the more police on the roads will more than likely encourage everyone to follow the laws.
John Sullivan, 53, a Marion County resident, said economic growth is attracting more people to the targeted areas, which creates more congestion.
“The area on Maricamp Road is showing tremendous growth, and there is a lot going on there,” Sullivan said. “Growing population, larger gas stations and the additional traffic probably require more enforcement due to accidents because more people are not used to the amount of traffic.”
Commuter traffic has also become an issue on Highway 200, said Jimmy Heflin, 38, a Marion County resident.
“In the next three years, they are adding so many apartments and additional businesses off 200, they are going to need to change traffic patterns or there will be an increased backup,” Heflin said. “People (will be) in a rush to work or from work, in addition, which requires more enforcement or growth in infrastructure.”
UNF is collaborating with law enforcement agencies in the 25 Florida counties that are experiencing the highest numbers of accidents. They are currently working with about 55 agencies within those counties through similar contracts to conduct safety operations in the high crash areas.
Roop said the institute maps out where the crashes occur. UNF researchers then collaborate with law enforcement agencies to determine which areas are most problematic. Over time, they fund enforcement and education in those locations.
Roop said the goal is zero deaths and zero collisions with serious injuries.
“That’s a long haul,” Roop said. “We’ve got a lot of work to get there, but you’re never going to reach it if you don’t try and you don’t start somewhere.”
Roop said everyone has a role to play, and if everyone does things right, we won’t have these kinds of problems.
The contract began September 6, 2018, and ends May 17, 2019. The High Visibility Enforcement Program will continue, and the contracts are renewable annually so long as the agencies have enough people to carry out enforcement details and apply for funding. So long as Marion County continues to have high numbers of serious or fatal pedestrian and bike crashes, FDOT will continue to provide funding for the county, FDOT Alert Today Florida Team documents said.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles traffic crash facts show that the total pedestrian traffic fatalities and total bicyclist traffic fatalities decreased slightly between 2017 and 2018 in Marion County.