WINDERMERE – Olympia High School student Sydney Witherington, 16, was riding her bike to practice at about 4 p.m. Monday, April 10, when she was hit by a car at the pedestrian crosswalk at Maguire Road and Park Avenue.
Dazed and in pain, Sydney survived the ordeal and let the driver continue on his way, but shortly after the accident, Sydney’s coach called her mom to inform her of what had transpired.
The resulting diagnosis? A concussion. One that has plagued Sydney with persistent headaches since that day and has her banned from classes and practice, per her doctor’s orders, until she can go 48 hours without a headache.
The situation urged Sydney’s father, John Witherington, to voice his concerns at a Windermere Town Council meeting on Tuesday, April 11, about the idea that roundabouts are safer than traditional stop signs or signal-controlled intersections.
Although studies purport the use of roundabouts reduce the number of car crashes resulting in injuries or death and improve traffic flow, Witherington insists it does not enhance pedestrian safety, specifically, exhibited by his daughter’s recent accident courtesy of a driver he assumes was not paying attention.
“Most pedestrians go up to a crosswalk where there’s either a traffic light or a stop sign, and you know that if the light is red and the walk sign is on, most cars will stop, and you’re going to be able to cross the street,” Witherington said, building up to his point. “Same thing with a stop sign. But with a roundabout, it’s a constant flow of traffic. The cars don’t come to a complete stop to let anybody across. So the roundabouts have helped to alleviate traffic and get it through the town faster, but I think it’s made a more unsafe environment for people walking.”
According to the Windermere Police Department, the town has not seen any pedestrian accidents in the past five years. However, according to a 2016 report from Smart Growth America, Florida was ranked as the most dangerous state in the country for pedestrians, with 5,142 pedestrian deaths ranging from 2005 to 2014.
Despite the town’s relatively good track record, Windermere Police Chief David Ogden decided to take some extra precautions and sent out a memo to his officers detailing Sydney’s accident and possible countermeasures to ensure pedestrian safety.
As a result, the town installed a temporary pedestrian crossing sign at the crosswalk and the department plans to have volunteer officers and school crossing guards to increase safety awareness through education and enforcement action with a Pedestrian Crosswalk Detail — the first of which is scheduled to begin before the end of April.
The hope is that education will help reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries and death – particularly in a town that has 20,000 cars transit through daily, according to Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn.
The high number of cars in a town that “was not built for this kind of traffic” and the routine rush-hour traffic that follows creates another obstacle to ensuring pedestrian safety, Witherington said, because it makes it difficult for cars to yield to pedestrians.
According to Witherington, the driver was located by Windermere police and given a traffic citation.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].