November 23, 2020

Florida has one of the highest pedestrian death rates in the nation, making roadway safety a top priority for the Florida Department of Transportation. At Gresham Smith, we specialize in roadway safety design, and we are actively working with FDOT to make Florida’s streets safer for everyone, especially pedestrians. Unfortunately, the business of improving roads is time-consuming, so FDOT has encouraged us to look at the problem in a different way.

To make meaningful, long-term improvements that help save lives, there are a variety of things that have to take place under the current project delivery framework, such as public meetings, detailed planning studies and securing funding—and these projects can be expensive. Over time, we’ve found that it can take years—sometimes even a decade—for these larger improvements to be implemented. Because they know residents can’t afford to wait years for real change to happen, FDOT District 7 in Tampa is leading the way by encouraging its consultants like Gresham Smith to develop innovative, short-term solutions, one of which is using short medians, which I’ll cover in this blog post.

Using Short Medians as Temporary Measure

In the Tampa Bay area, one of the most dangerous and common types of corridors we see are two-way left turn lanes (TWLTL) along multi-lane roadways. FDOT District 7 has made converting five- and seven-lane roadways with TWLTLs to median-divided highways a high priority because raised medians are proven to have an impact. According to research from the Federal Highway Administration, they reduce pedestrian crashes by 45% and fatalities by 78% compared to TWLTLs along multi-lane roadways. The problem is that making this conversion can’t happen overnight because it requires significant coordination with stakeholders and property owners, and it can create a variety of access issues. Working with FDOT staff, we developed a framework for making roads safer over the short-, mid- and long-term timeframes.

We’ve proposed starting with short medians, which are smaller, less expensive alternatives to full medians with turn lanes that we’ve all become more accustomed to seeing on busy roads in urban areas. While median modifications do require coordination with local businesses and agencies, there are no major impacts to business access, and it allows agencies to make pedestrian safety improvements over time while full access management is studied and implemented.

Busch Boulevard Pilot Project

Busch Boulevard is a pilot corridor in Tampa where FDOT designed 7 short medians along a 1.5 mile-long five-lane section where the speed limit is 45 mph. These short medians were installed with minimal impacts to access as a part of larger resurfacing, restoration or rehabilitation projects at a cost of less than $50,000, a fraction of what a full scale access management implementation would cost.

State Route 60

Another corridor we studied was State Route 60 in Clearwater. In the short-term, we proposed two mid-block short medians for pedestrians at a cost of only $176,000 that could be implemented within the next 1-2 years, while full access control is studied and implemented over the longer term. This project is scheduled to be constructed under FDOT District 7’s upcoming Safety Push Button Design V contract.

These are just a few examples of how short medians can fill a temporary role to make roads safer, while local municipalities and states weigh longer term solutions. Working in concert with FDOT, Gresham Smith’s roadway engineering practice is making an immediate impact in roadway safety—one of the department’s most important initiatives. This innovative new approach shows our genuine ingenuity in action.