Orlando uses rapid build projects to improve pedestrian safety

As it turned out, not all government plans are designed for eternity.

While major road projects can take years, if not decades, to plan, finance, and build, Orlando has embraced “rapid building” to speed up some pedestrian infrastructure improvements in the meantime.

These improvements, such as separate bike lanes, bus stops, and walkways, are cost-effective, although often temporary.

The most recent rapid development along Amelia Street in Creative Village includes a separate bike lane with an elevated bus platform that allows passengers to board the bus without entering the bike lane, and also prevents cyclists from merging into the lane to bypass buses.

“We’re working hard to improve transportation security today, while at the same time we’re planning tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure,” said Laura Hardwick, Orlando’s Safe Mobility Manager.

Rapid builds can be projects that improve the safety of intersections, add paths for cycling and walking, calm traffic, or add SUVs and public spaces, Hardwicke says.

Within a city building guide, they can be brief, pop-up events, multi-month pilot projects, or multi-year quick fixes.

Orlando is funding them in part with revenue from red light camera tickets and fees paid by scooter and bike companies through the city’s micromobility program.

Quick builds have been used in Austin, New York, Chicago and San Francisco, among others, according to a guide created by the nonprofit People For Bikes.

City leaders have committed to improving the safety of people trying to walk and bike around Orlando, as the region regularly ranks among the most dangerous for pedestrians in Smart Growth America’s “Dangerous By Design” report, which covers the metro area from Sanford to Kissimmee.

Orlando is among the cities and counties that have joined Vision Zero, a program aimed at eliminating road deaths and serious injuries by 2040.

The number of fatal crashes in the city has been rising every year since 2017, from 33 that year to 49 in 2021, which is the most recent year for which data is available.

Rapid building allows cities to quickly address issues or adjust their improvements if necessary, said Dave Snyder, senior director of infrastructure for People For Bikes, a national nonprofit that advocates for improved cycling infrastructure.

“The two biggest advantages are that they are affordable and you can do it quickly,” he said. “You can actually test them… so you don’t even have to actively engage the community… the project itself serves as an interaction with the community.”

The cycle path on Amelia Street was planned much faster than the complex full reconstruction of the street, which took only a few months. Installation took about a week, Hardwick said.

It is expected to remain as a pilot project for six months, though if successful, it could stay longer or permanently.

Other quick builds can be even shorter.

In May, the city hosted a one-day pop-up bike trail along Corrine Drive to celebrate National Cycling and School Day. The walkway stretched from Leu Gardens to Audubon Park School and protected cyclists from vehicles with vertical plastic barriers.

The city plans to convert the one-day route to a longer one starting this fall due to its popularity. The pop-up helped identify “pain points” as part of long-term planning, Hardwicke says.

People ride on a temporary pop-up bike path on Corrine Drive on May 4, 2023. (Courtesy of Steven Miller Photography)

Such a path would be a welcome, albeit temporary, addition to Corrine Drive, a driveway lined with popular small shops, cafes, bars and the East End Market, said Jennifer Marvel, chief executive of Audubon Park Garden District High Street.

“Corrina is not walkable, it is not cyclable, it is not ADA compliant,” she said. “Over time, it has become a destination. … We want to do more to encourage people who live within walking distance to walk and ride your bikes safely,” she said.

Today, Corrin Drive lacks a cohesive sidewalk network, and a study by MetroPlan Orlando into a possible redesign concluded, “Much of Corrin Drive appears inhospitable to anyone who wants to walk, bike, or use public transportation.”

Work to slow down and overhaul the road into a “full street” with bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks is progressing slowly, with the City expecting construction to begin in 2026.

Ideas for future quick builds can come from almost anywhere, Hardwick said. The city has an interest form posted online for residents, neighborhoods, organizations, and other groups to apply.

“No matter how the projects are proposed to us… they will go through the transportation department and we will check them against our rapid construction criteria,” she said.

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