District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson hosted a Public Safety Town Hall Meeting to discuss challenges and advancements in the Horizon West area Tuesday, Nov. 7, at the Independence Town Square Residents Club.
Those in attendance included community leaders such as Linda Sibley, Kevin Adams and Jerry Higgins; Orange County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Dillon; and staff from the county’s public works and traffic engineering departments.
The Town Hall included an update from the OCSO, a presentation from county staff, and a question-and-answer session with the community.
“I’m excited tonight to be able to bring in some experts from the county who have really made safety part of their mission, understanding that it is a process,” Wilson said. “We have to find what places need the immediate work and get the immediate work done, and then look for the long-term solutions when we can find those.”
Dillon said the OCSO just restructured its sectors to better serve the community. Before, Sector Three included Pine Hills, which often required more police presence and caused longer response times in Horizon West and Dr. Phillips.
However, with the restructuring, that is no longer the case.
“The good thing about that is it allows us to have more deputies in the Dr. Phillips, Sand Lake Road, Horizon West, all the way out to (U.S.) 192,” Dillon said. “Some of the roundabouts and stuff Commissioner Wilson has fought for and is implementing are going to be instrumental to the success of slowing the traffic down and making sure the runners, the joggers, the bicyclists out there and, most importantly, our children are safe.”
Dillon said one of the biggest complaints Sector Three receives is about people speeding and running stop signs on Seidel Road near the Summerlake community and on the side streets
“To combat some of those complaints, in the last six weeks … my team has made (more than) 250 traffic stops … plus 190 courtesy warnings … and about 15 or 20 actual citations,” he said. “People are slowly starting to see us out there doing the radar and the traffic detail in the community and the people are thanking us. … Our goal isn’t to go out there and cite people. … We’re trying to educate the community and ask people to please slow down.”
Sibley asked if there is anything the OCSO has planned to combat the excessive speed racing in the area.
“We hear it overnight,” she said. “You can see the residue of the tires when they do their doughnuts all over the area. We can hear it all night long. There’s periods of time where it seems to just kind of stop, but then it picks back up again.”
Dillon said every other Thursday and every Saturday, the OCSO has a racing team comprising about 25 individuals that goes out in the community. However, he said the majority of the speed-racing complaints come from other sectors.
“We don’t get as many complaints over here, so call it in if you hear it,” he said. “If all of a sudden the racers spike up over here, that team … we have to go and address it. It’s actually working. What we’re doing is we have our specialized units going onto the racer websites, and we’re beating them to it. We’re seizing the cars. … We call their insurance companies and let them know the car was impounded for racing. … Most of these young kids are racing their cars with their parents’ name on it. … The racing thing has always been an issue, but up until the last year and a half is when the governor has helped us with some legislation allowing us to seize the car and stuff like that. Before, I’ll be honest with you: We couldn’t do much. But now we can, and it’s starting to work.”
Dillon said all calls should be directed to the traffic unit at the OCSO and as much information as possible should be provided. Once a pattern is created, the OCSO can address it.
“The biggest thing is the reputation of the community matters,” Adams said. “When you go through downtown Windermere, the reputation in Orlando, in Central Florida is you don’t speed in downtown Windermere. … These communities out in Horizon West are very different …because we are all connected. This isn’t a community. It’s more like a town the way that it’s developed. It’s got mixed-use, commercial, schools, all of this stuff intertwined, and they’re using it as cut-throughs. … At some point, there’s got to be zero tolerance.”
Orange County staff members gave a presentation covering Vision Zero, community outreach, the accelerated transportation safety program, safety countermeasures and District 1 projects.
The traffic engineering team said its members are dedicated to providing safety and operational solutions to the residents’ transportation needs to enhance the quality of life in the community.
Vision Zero sets the goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2040, as well as prioritizes vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian roadway safety, ADA accessibility, and resilience through technology retrofits. The vision also promotes safety programs and projects focused on infrastructure, human behavior and emergency response.
As far as community outreach, the team is focusing on four categories: engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response.
“This is not a new concept, but it is so important to remember it takes a village to develop a safe transportation system,” Roberto Ng, Orange County staff member, said. “It’s all of us. It cannot just be you or (me), but the community involved. … Join us to be part of the solution. … We all need your help.”
Although the proposed Orange County sales tax referendum did not pass in 2022, staff recognized the need for critical pedestrian, bicycle and motorist safety improvements, as well as transit enhancements, still existed.
In the interim, the county is seeking opportunities to address needs with available resources. The projects selected for the program are from the original transportation report and encompass the county’s Vision Zero strategy.
Regarding roadway lighting, there are 112 total projects identified across Orange County, which will be coordinated and designed by Duke Energy or OUC. For sidewalks, there are 108 proposed projects across the county with $25 million in spending expected to take place in the next five years.
There are nine safety projects in total with five in District 1: Seidel Road, from Avalon Road to Summerlake Park Boulevard (3.4 miles); Town Center, from Raintree Ridge Road to Courtney Chase Circle (3.3 miles); Village Lake Road, PHB at Village Lake Road south of Publix (mid-block); Turkey Lake Road, Walmart and Sand Lake Vista signals; Horizon West area at Tattant Boulevard and Overstreet Road (2.7 miles).
The goal for safety countermeasures is to integrate safety principles during the implementation of transportation programs county wide with human scale, system enhancements and forward planning.
There are seven traffic-calming projects completed or in the works in District 1: the Horizon West Bicycle/Pedestrian and Traffic Calming Study, New Independence, Thornhill/Royal Legacy Estates, Overlook, West Orange Country Club Drive, Hempel Avenue and Windy Ridge Road.
As far as ADA improvements, since December 2022, there have been 107 ramps installed in District 1, totaling $241,401. There are 140 ramps planned to be installed, totaling $281,792.
For traffic signals, over the past year the projects at Seidel Road at Summerlake Groves Street and Panther Lake Elementary and at Avalon Road at Silver Groves Boulevard have been completed. There are three currently under construction on Avalon Road at Porter Road, Water Springs Boulevard and Phil Ritson Way, all expected to be completed by the end of summer 2024.
There have been four speed-feedback signs installed at Tilden Road, McKinnon Road, Dr. Phillips Boulevard and Hamlin Groves Trail, with one at Hunter’s Creek Boulevard still in progress.
The school zone at Water Spring Middle School has been finished, and the school zone for the new elementary school planned to open August 2024 on Atwater Bay Drive is in the works.
Speed reductions at Lake Butler Boulevard from Clarice Court to county limits, John Young Parkway from Equity Row to Central Florida Greenway, Town Loop Boulevard from John Young Parkway to East Town Center Boulevard and Turkey Lake Road from Central Florida Parkway to Vineland Avenue have been completed. Ongoing speed reductions are taking place at Ficquette Road from south of Inglenook Drive to south of Summerlake Park Boulevard, Reams Road from Summerlake Park Boulevard to Taborfield Avenue and Hunters Creek Boulevard from Town Center Boulevard to OBT.
Staff said the best way to reach any county department, including the Traffic Engineering Division, is to use the county’s 311 system. Operators with 311 have direct access numbers for all county divisions, and all 311 requests are logged. The progress of each request can be checked.