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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Jan. 25, 2019 3 years ago

Residents rally to make Orange Avenue safer with signs

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As the number of crashes continues to grow, Winter Park and Orlando residents are hoping some new signs can slow things down.
by: Tim Freed Former Managing Editor

Winter Park resident Garrick Spears still remembers what it sounded like. He remembers New Year’s Eve just over a year ago — when two women were T-boned and killed by a driver speeding down Orange Avenue just outside his house.

“The way that I describe it is it sounded like a truck emptying gravel — what we heard was the sliding,” Spears said. “It ended with a thud, it must have been the car hitting the tree. We were right there when it happened.”

Local residents in Winter Park and Orlando along Orange Avenue want to see their road become safer — and they’ve taken action to do just that, placing yellow signs in front of their homes that read “please slow down” in black type.

Despite the street having a speed limit of 35 mph, the stretch of road from U.S. 17-92 to Clay Avenue has been notorious for speeding — the driver who killed the two young women on New Year’s Eve was driving in excess of 100 mph.

The signs dotting Orange Avenue were an idea by Spears and his partner, who had seen enough accidents happen on the four-lane road and realized it was time to make a change. The last straw came on Halloween night of 2018, when a car was speeding down Orange Avenue from 17-92 lost control, went airborne off a neighbor’s driveway apron and crashed into Spears’ fence. It was one of five crashes Spears has seen since the tragedy on New Year’s Eve.

“We think it flipped,” Spears said. “I didn’t hear the noise — I felt it. I equate it too when the shuttle lands, and we get that boom and the house shakes. The house shook and I thought, ‘That wasn’t right.’”

Spears started with smaller signs in November 2018 outside of his house, but soon, he decided to take it a step further. Earlier this month, Spears got bigger signs and reached out to all 51 of his neighbors that live along Orange Avenue with fliers, offering to give them signs to help encourage drivers to slow down along the road. Every couple days, someone calls for a sign, he said, and today between 20 and 30 neighbors have picked one up.

So far it seems to be working, Spears said.

“I’m hearing from a lot of my neighbors that conscientious drivers are slowing down, but we still have those folks that are going to speed regardless,” he said. “There is a noticeable difference.”

But Spears added the signs aren’t a long-term solution. It’s up to Winter Park leaders and the Florida Department of Transportation to come up with a permanent solution to make drivers slow down.

Spears also said he would like to see residents from the southern most portion of Orange Avenue — from Westminster Street to Clay Avenue, which sits in Orlando — reach out to the city of Orlando about making some safety improvements.

The stretch of Orange Avenue has been under scrutiny by FDOT recently, with a study getting released just earlier this month. According to the report, the 0.8-mile segment of the street has seen 203 collisions from 2012 to 2016.

The study also mentions several long-term solutions, such as adding a roundabout at the intersection of Clay Avenue, Orange Avenue and Wilkinson Street, or converting the section of Orange Avenue into a three-lane road.

One possible change that could make things safer is to prohibit left-hand turns onto Orange Avenue during specific hours, Spears said. He expects the city of Winter Park to discuss potential changes further in the coming months.

“We’re looking forward to meetings with the cities and meetings with the state so we can discuss the proposals,” he said.

At this point, Spears said he and his neighbors would welcome any kind of change.

“We’re all for anything that makes any kind of an impact,” Spears said. “We won’t say, ‘No.’”

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Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. 

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