Moving to Florida was a big change for me a decade ago.
In the Midwest, pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way and I grew accustomed to feeling safe during recreational activities. Quickly, I found local trails in Santa Rosa County and noticed a good deal of tourists, local families and exercise enthusiasts like myself, but unfortunately, I also noticed a lack of safety features that I have grown accustomed to when I ran outside farther north from here.
Fast forward a couple of years. I found myself running longer distances as I lost weight and became heart-healthy. Five miles, 10 miles, half-marathon, then a marathon. As I went farther, I began to notice some issues along the trail. As I ran, vehicles would ignore the stop signs and pull into the trail crossing as they turned, oftentimes blocking the trail. Initially, I changed trails, but always found the same. Vehicles turning into subdivisions were dangerous as they drove through the trail crossings without consideration. School buses, county vehicles, tourists, locals, everyone – everyone ignored the stop signs. On top of this issue, construction workers parked on the trails and would leave massive amount of sand over.
As I researched, I found that Florida law states “Florida law 316.130(7) – Drivers Must Stop for Pedestrians in a Crosswalk. Florida statute 316.130(7) requires drivers to stop for pedestrians who are in a crosswalk with a walk signal. … If there are no traffic control signals or signs, the driver must yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk.” I also noticed that pedestrians have the same stop sign as vehicles do at crosswalks, none of them marked with the typical ground paint warnings or lights that I grew accustomed to in the north.
According to a 2019 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, Florida is second behind California for pedestrian fatalities across the nation and it’s on the rise. The report referenced poor lighting, speeding and drowsy/impaired driving as typical culprits. Without proper lighting and education of drivers, it’s only a matter of time until an accident happens locally. Navarre has grown exponentially in the last few years and as we grow, more families take to the trails for recreational activities. It would help to put safety first. A plan to properly mark the crossings with paint, flashing lights, along with education of our citizens about giving the right of way to pedestrians, would help lower the risks of recreation accidents along out nonmotorized pathways.
As we take advantage of the beautiful area in which we live, creating trails without safety features takes pedestrians off our trails and onto exercise equipment indoors, eventually leading to boredom and a lack of will to exercise, doing the opposite of the intended purpose of our trail system.
Without safety, there is no safe place to run.