Skip to Content
Streetsblog California home
Streetsblog California home
Log In
Streetsblog USA

Florida’s Complete Streets Law Saved Thousands of Lives, and That Wasn’t Enough

Florida’s complete streets law led officials to tack on bike and pedestrian infrastructure without changing the car-centric nature of the state’s transportation planning. Photo: Weinstein Legal

Florida epitomizes Sun Belt autosprawl and all its attendant dangers for people on foot. The state routinely ranks among the deadliest for walking.

But it could have been worse, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Florida adopted a statewide complete streets policy in 1984. The law stated that routes for biking and walking must be considered in road construction projects, with a few limited exceptions. It also charged the state with developing a statewide "integrated system of bicycle and pedestrian ways."

The law, now 34 years old, did not transform car-centric transportation planning in Florida, and the state's streets remain unacceptably dangerous for walking. But even this incremental step saved lives, according University of Georgia researcher Jamila Porter.

Porter and her team compared changes in Florida's pedestrian fatality rate to national trends, as well as to other Sun Belt states without complete streets policies. They found that pedestrian deaths fell faster in Florida after the complete streets law was adopted than they would have if the state had tracked trends in peer states or the U.S. as a whole. The difference added up to between 3,500 and 4,000 lives saved over a 30-year period.

While Florida's per capita pedestrian fatality rate fell 60 percent, from 6.36 fatalities per 100,000 people to 2.56, it remains among the most dangerous in the nation for walking. In 2015, only Delaware had a higher rate.

In interviews with 10 Florida DOT officials, each with at least 15 years of experience, Porter and her team also highlight how the law was not sufficient on its own to change the cars-first culture at the agency. While infrastructure for walking and biking was tacked on to projects, the state still focused on moving motor vehicles, not creating safe bike and pedestrian networks.

"We did well what we thought we knew to do well. We provided a 5-foot sidewalk... that was it. Or we provided a bit of bike lane," said one staffer. But the state was still "consumed with the requirements -- that we have adequate capacity for cars on roadways -- and part of that was based on the ability of a car to get from location A to B in a timely manner and fast."

Other state policies worked against the goals of the complete streets law. One staffer pointed out that Florida still places too much emphasis on metrics of motor vehicle throughput, like level of service, that undermine pedestrian safety. Some said that while the state's policies were better than most, Florida should have made more progress.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog California

Advocates Share What It Takes to Fight Highway Expansions in Court 

What does it take to sue your state DOT? Time, money, the right partners, and a little creativity, a recent survey of activists found.

July 19, 2024

Friday Video: Paris Does it Again

Come for the bike-friendly streets, but stay for adopt-a-tree program and all the car-free school roadways.

July 19, 2024

Neighbors Want a BART Stop in San Antonio

It's one of the most densely populated parts of the Bay Area. BART goes right through it. So why not stop there?

July 19, 2024

Friday’s Headlines

Rep. Waters hates the people mover; SacRT's new transportation hub; Lessons learned from a long bike ride; More

July 19, 2024

The Active Transportation Program Has to Strategize About its Severely Reduced Funding

Funding for Cycle 7 of the Active Transportation Program is less than $200 million, and already there have been requests for fifteen times the amount of available funding

July 18, 2024
See all posts