Local Government in Action: Orange County Traffic Engineering Division Works with Residents to Improve Road Safety
When tragedy struck in January 2018 at the intersection of Pershing Ave. and Redditt Road in Orlando, it was a reminder of the importance of traffic and pedestrian safety, but the subsequent action taken by Orange County Government is also a reminder of how local governments can listen to residents in order to make a difference.
Irma Morales, 73, lost her life while crossing that intersection, and her sister, Pat Santiago, wanted to ensure she did not die in vain. She reached out to Lauren Torres, project manager in the Orange County Public Works Department Traffic Engineering Division, and she spoke with her about the need to make the intersection safer.
“I wanted to make sure we fixed the issue,” said Torres, who conversed with Santiago several times regarding her safety concerns at that intersection. “It didn’t have a crosswalk, but it definitely warranted one.”
Torres put a plan in motion, and the $13,000 crosswalk project was completed in February. Just one month after the accident, the intersection was safer for pedestrians.
An Eye on Safety
Last year alone, Orange County’s Traffic Engineering Division received 5,622 requests through OCFL 311, the mobile app that allows residents the ability to report non-emergency community incidents efficiently and conveniently. The division handles calls related to pedestrian and cyclist safety, as well as school-related traffic safety.
“Just about everything comes our way,” said Torres. “The things we typically hear include, ‘There’s no sidewalk here,’ ‘This isn’t a safe crossing,’ ‘My child crosses here every day,’ ‘People are speeding,’ or ‘This signal isn’t long enough for me to cross over.’”
On a daily basis, the team reviews crash data to determine how to make intersections safer. Anytime a traffic-related fatality occurs within the County, as was the case in Jan. 2018, Traffic Engineering looks into it. They also meet with the Florida Department of Transportation quarterly to go over project ideas and funding mechanisms to get those projects moving forward. Additionally, they meet regularly with a community traffic safety team, a student pedestrian safety committee, Florida Highway Patrol, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Orange County Public Schools, and the cities of Lake Mary, Winter Park and Orlando.
When Santiago first contacted Torres, the team set up a field review to study the intersection and brainstorm possible solutions. “Everyone is under the impression it was just us, but the Highway Construction Division was also involved,” asserted Torres. “We pulled together and worked collaboratively to get it done.”
Torres describes OCFL 311 as a great communications tool because residents experience traffic-safety issues every day across the entire County. She also empathizes with people’s frustrations because remedying these issues takes time. “A traffic signal can take up to nine months to make and be delivered,” she admitted, “but I believe everyone wants the same thing – for residents and visitors to be safer. I don’t think there’s anyone here who doesn’t want that.”
Traffic Engineering takes a proactive approach to identifying traffic safety issues. The team is constantly engaging with the community – talking with parents, students, educators, law enforcement, local municipalities and civic leaders – to listen to their concerns and suggestions.
“We attend many HOA meetings and conduct small area studies and road safety audits,” added Torres. “This year we’re walking an entire neighborhood looking for solutions for their safety-related issues. We have certain communities that call all the time, but there are other communities that don’t realize if they have an issue with parking or a sidewalk, they can call us.”
The goal for Torres and the Traffic Engineering team is to reach all communities and make Orange County roads safer for everyone.
To report any suggestions to Orange County Public Works, contact 311, download the 311 app or visit www.ocfl.net/311.