HHP researchers address bike and pedestrian safety in the Sunshine State
Pictured left to right: John Egberts, Dan Connaughton
In Florida, the sunshine and pleasant weather encourage thousands to walk or take a bike ride instead of driving. But as more and more Floridians turn to walking and cycling as a means of transportation and recreation, bike and pedestrian safety has become an important issue facing the state.
A 2015 study conducted by the CDC found that the state of Florida has the highest rate of cycling fatalities nationwide, causing the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to devise new strategies to make our streets safer. But at the University of Florida, HHP transportation and injury prevention researchers Dan Connaughton, Ed.D., and John Egberts led the pack by helping head multiple FDOT-sponsored initiatives aimed at increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety.
One such strategy was the creation of a program to strengthen bicycle safety education. The Florida Traffic and Bicycle Safety Education Program and Florida Safe Routes to School Program helped the pair take a huge step towards accomplishing this goal. The pair developed a curricula relating to pedestrian and bicycle safety to reach a wide audience. By adopting a “train-the-trainer” model of teaching, both researchers conduct workshops through the program to train individuals to lead bicycle safety initiatives in their areas.
“These aren’t skills that people are born with,” Connaughton said. “They need to be taught them in order to be safer.”
According to Connaughton, the in-class instruction teaches interested adults essential components of bicycle safety. Hand signals, bike inspections, rules of the road and laws are taught free of charge at each session. Each year, more than 1,500 law enforcement officers, teachers and other professionals participate in these traveling statewide workshops, Connaughton said. Each trainer takes a different approach towards bringing these skills to their communities, but according to Egberts, education is not the only way that cycling injuries and fatalities can be reduced.
That is why research into safety improvements has been spearheaded by Connaughton and Egberts. Hoping to improve student travel, the HHP researchers will conduct a “pre” and “post” test to determine whether riders benefit from infrastructure changes. In the study, roughly 300 schools across Florida will be assessed on whether implementing changes, such as sidewalks and bike paths, will improve safety and increase walking and bicycling to school. The program’s effectiveness will be graded through travel surveys collected by teachers and school officials.
“We hope this is the case,” said Egberts when speaking about his desire for the program to be successful. “Our goal is for more children to be outside walking and biking.”
The researchers also have a third initiative to improve state transportation safety. Through UF, Connaughton and Egberts manage the Florida School Crossing Guard Training Program, a state-mandated initiative to train crossing guard trainers. Accordingly, the pair work closely with the program administrator to coordinate the program.
Both Connaughton and Egberts are encouraged by the advancements that their programs have made in keeping Florida safer over the course of 10 years. But they are hopeful that these FDOT initiatives will motivate safety-conscious Floridians to join in with their own efforts.
“This isn’t just a local safety effort, it’s a community one,” Connaughton said. “We welcome anyone who wants to help out and make a difference in their local area.”