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Billy Hattaway

District 1 Secretary, Department of Transportation

Billy Hattaway, District 1 Secretary, Department of Transportation, Florida

David Kidd

When Billy Hattaway took a 10-day trip out to the West Coast in 1996, it triggered a “conversion experience” for the then-state roadway design engineer at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). He toured cities with roundabouts and other pedestrian-friendly infrastructure features -- rare sights in the Sunshine State. After returning, he began pushing Florida to adopt some of the walkable ideas he’d seen. He got nowhere. Frustrated by his state’s lack of action, he later left to become a private consultant, assisting other states instead.

Nearly two decades later, Hattaway is back. Thanks to changes in leadership and evolving attitudes about transportation planning, Hattaway has found himself leading a sweeping effort to turn around pedestrian safety in Florida, a state notorious for having some of the highest pedestrian death tallies year after year. FDOT hired him back in 2011 as a district secretary to lead its pedestrian and bike safety initiative. “I came back because the current leadership is all about making a difference,” he says, “and that’s what motivates me.”

The state’s efforts extend far beyond the typical public awareness safety campaign. In each district office, they’ve hired dedicated specialists to coordinate pedestrian and bicycle efforts and to correct safety issues. Hattaway has traveled across the state, talking to staff and leading training sessions on road design and fixing problem areas. Over the past two years, more than 800 engineers and planners working in FDOT and local governments received training. Rather than issuing general guidelines, Hattaway is revising the technical documents used by engineers to incorporate updated requirements, such as increased sidewalk widths. To better target its efforts, the department also employs a data-driven approach to identify accident-prone corridors. “Ten or 15 years ago, nobody there viewed pedestrian and bicycle safety as a major priority,” says Pei-Sung Lin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida. “We’ve now started to see the whole state get excited about this.”

Much of this has culminated in Florida’s first-ever statewide pedestrian and bicycle strategic safety plan, which is being implemented by the state and a coalition of stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies and public health departments. Police, for instance, produced a training video for officers. And FDOT is working to better engage with the public about pedestrian safety needs. The agency and state legislature are clarifying terminology so that laws, like what constitutes a crosswalk, are easier to understand.

Reversing generations of transportation planning and a car-centric culture will take time. But while Hattaway’s pedestrian safety initiatives have been in place just a few years, they’re already seeing signs of improvement. In 2012, Florida’s state ranking for annual pedestrian deaths per capita fell out of the top three for the first time in decades. -- By Michael Maciag

Read about the rest of the Public Officials of the Year here.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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