Florida leads the nation in pedestrian fatalities. And some think infrastructure is to blame. Now the state Department of Transportation is transforming the way it designs streets. Tallahassee’s South Monroe Street could be one of the first to incorporate the new changes.
Standing on the pedestrian bridge at Cascades Park and looking out over South Monroe Street, four lanes of car traffic stretch ahead. There are no bike lanes to speak of, and limited street lighting. There are sidewalks on both sides of the road, but the pavement is cracked and uneven in places. Signs are posted alerting residents that there are no pedestrian crosswalks across Monroe Street. Instead of walking blocks out of their way, pedestrians dart across four lanes of traffic to get where they need to go.
But now the Tallahassee-Leon County planning department is considering redeveloping this road, to make it safer for people who aren’t in cars, says principal planner Artie White.
“The purpose of the corridor plan would be to recognize the context in which South Monroe is located. Try to find ways to accommodate all modes of transportation, all roadway users,” White said.
White says the project will focus on the stretch of South Monroe from Tennesee Street to Gaile Avenue.
“It shows that there are opportunities to narrow down some lanes, enhance some of the bicycle facilities, address sidewalks a little bit differently. And this is what we’ll be working on moving forward,” he said.
This effort is part of the state’s Complete Streets Initiative. That’s part of a nationwide movement to redesign roads to fit the unique needs of the community. That could involve narrowing lanes, building out cross walks, adding landscaping, and generally creating buffers between vehicles and everyone else.
Under the policy, pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders should share the same access as truckers and cars. That’s not the case on South Monroe right now.
Hans van Tol heads Capital City Cyclists, a local advocacy group. He says the construction of the road itself makes it uncomfortable or downright dangerous for cyclists.
“A lot of it kind of comes from the design of the roads. Because Florida has grown so much. In the 60s and the 70s, they built roads for cars and nobody else," van Tol said.
He says dedicated bike lanes, street lighting, landscaping, and cross walks could all make South Monroe more accessible to people who aren’t driving.
“It’s an important north-south street. And it’s not good looking at the moment. That’s for sure. So hopefully it will be somewhat better," van Tol said. "Some trees, these kind of things also make it much better for pedestrians. Make it a more accessible street so you can walk or do your groceries or your shopping or whatever.”
South Monroe is a main thoroughfare that connects FAMU to Cascades Park, and the capitol to downtown. Artie White says the infrastructure improvements could help the area become a local destination.
“This energy that you see in this corridor, there’s been a lot of movement towards having a sense of place, an identity, that has really come up from the grassroots level. It’s really organic. And I think working through this process we’re recognizing a lot of that energy in the corridor,” White said.
City and county planners are studying the road now, and hope to draft a plan by early 2018.