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A beautiful day in Florida? Better Take the Car -- Or Take Your Life in Your Hands

Florida is ranked the second-deadliest state to walk in, but concerned citizens are pushing for change. Boca Raton residents say too many roads cater to high-speed traffic, and too few to pedestrians, bicyclists and skaters.

By Nicole Bergmann | MediaLab@FAU

Dec 19, 2023

Angel Roura, 22, a Florida Atlantic University student living on the Boca Raton campus, returned to his dorm carrying his skateboard after skating to a nearby wellness shop to clear his head.

Roura, like many college students, doesn’t have a car. He said that getting around without one in Boca isn’t easy: bike lanes are often adjacent to high-speed streets, sidewalks are often unfinished and break off into open roads, and some sidewalks are so overgrown, they become unusable.

One comprehensive study shows that walking in Florida is lethal. In a 2022 report by Smart Growth America, a nonprofit aimed at advocating for healthier communities within the country, Florida was ranked as the state with the second-most pedestrian fatalities. Members of the Boca Raton community are concerned about Glades Road near FAU being dangerous for students and are pushing for the redesign of Palmetto Park Road.

Roura said it takes a lot of practice to know which routes you can take in town by bike. Due to the lack of public transportation, he often has to rely on his friends to go to the grocery store. 

“I feel like a burden,” said Roura. 

The local bus routes in Boca end early at 9 P.M., and while FAU is a school advertised as being close to the coast, to take the bus from campus to the beach would take longer than an hour each way. 

Right across from FAU’s Boca Raton campus is the University Commons, a stripmall on Glades Road that features restaurants, a Barnes & Noble, and a Whole Foods. Despite being less than a mile away from campus, the university and the shops are divided by the fast, multilane Glades Road. Roura said he feels unsafe biking to Whole Foods, as drivers on Glades are often just getting off the nearby highway exit and zip past at high speeds. 

One time while biking in Cocoa Beach, Roura was struck by a car, he said. While the car slowed down enough that Roura wasn’t injured, many aren’t as fortunate.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that uses federal grants to improve highway safety, estimated that more than 7,500 pedestrians were killed on roads in the United States in 2022. Those numbers would make 2022 the year with the most pedestrian fatalities since 1981. 

Their data shows that the United States is not improving in providing safer, more walkable communities. Rather, the country is becoming more and more dangerous for pedestrians over time. From 2010 to 2021, pedestrian deaths rose by  77%.

In Smart Growth America’s 2022 Deadly by Design Report, seven Floridian metropolitan areas are ranked among the 20 most dangerous in the country for pedestrians. Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach is overall the most dangerous metropolitan area in the country. South Florida’s own hotspot of Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach is the 14th most dangerous area to walk in the United States. 

“In the United States, we bring speed and complexity together, and that always creates fatalities. It kills people and it’s 100% predictable and exactly what safer nations don’t do,” says Beth Osborne, Vice President of Transportation and Thriving Communities at Smart Growth America.

Osborne said that a lot of the lack of safety on Florida’s roadways stems from the fact that urban planning wasn’t a focus in southern states until after the invention of air conditioning. By this time, automobiles were popular. She said that Florida was built to drive through places to reach another destination fast. She called this “poor planning.”

While Florida is sprawling with thick multi-lane roads and highways, older places like New York City were planned before automobiles. The city was built to be more walkable.

In 2022, it was estimated by the United States Census Bureau that the average American spends 26.4 minutes on a one way commute. 


Urban planning in Boca Raton has been met with criticism. Blue Lake Elementary school is a brand new school built right beside Countess De Hoernle Park. However, the park and the school are divided by a fence. Either place is only accessible to the other by car, said Louis Merlin, an urban planner and an associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida Atlantic University.

Louis Merlin has lived in many places around the world. When moving to Florida he tried to find the most walkable community in Boca Raton to move to. 

“Personally, it’s been very hard, because a lot of what I see around doesn’t make sense to me,” said Merlin.

Merlin used the area surrounding FAU as an example. Back in December of 2018, FAU student Asia McClave, 20, was struck by a car and killed while crossing West Glades Road.

“Outside of Florida, I can’t think of a place where I’ve seen a road that wide and that fast, right adjacent to a university campus where we know there’s hundreds of students who are walking,” said Merlin.

Glades Road isn’t the only street in the city that citizens have deemed as unsafe.

“You kind of take your life in your hands trying to cross Palmetto Park Road,” says former city of Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Andrea Levine O’Rourke. 

Near Palmetto Park Road lies Mizner Park, a high-end shopping center in the heart of Boca. Within the neighborhood there are many attractions including the Mizner Park Amphitheater, IPIC Theaters, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art. 

O’Rourke says that during her time as an elected official, she became involved with a group of involved Boca Raton citizens who wanted to make Palmetto Park safer and more beautiful. She created a presentation and proposed a redesign of Palmetto Park Road to the city. Her goal is to make the road safer for patrons by narrowing the street and creating a larger sidewalk. 

O’Rourke said that she doesn’t believe Palmetto Park should be a road designed for high speed driving. Rather, Mizner Park should be a safe, walkable destination. 

Alta Planning and Design, an engineering and roadway planning firm, was hired for the job and O’Rourke said that they’re currently in the process of deciding the specific changes that would be suitable for the new Palmetto Park Road. 

While O’Rourke said development using government funds is typically a slow process, change to make Boca Raton safer is in motion. 

“Nothing in America will look the same in 20 years,” said Osborne. “The only question is whether or not we will be at the helm of steering that change.”

Angel Roura finds it unsafe to cross Glades Road on his skateboard to get to the shops near campus. (Photo: Nicole Bergmann)

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