OpEd: Death on the Drive

Photo: JR Davis

The politicians who run Wilton Manors have known for years that Wilton Drive is not a neighborhood road — but a death trap.

In fact, the city decided to create signs in the past few months to post in local businesses warning pedestrians to be individually safer in their actions and more alert for passing vehicles.

But I am not here to sing their praise. I would prefer their unanimous resignations.

You see, politicians are good at proclamations and promises, celebrations and coronations. But actually getting done what needs to be done is a whole other thing.

For years, it has been transparent and known to civic leaders that Wilton Drive is an unsafe state highway that places pedestrians at risk- even before you populate the locale with late night clubs pouring alcoholic beverages.

It was in April of 2010 when Doug Blevins and Tom Tabor presented to the city commission site plans, artist renderings and a cost analysis to convert Wilton Drive into a neighborhood road with pedestrian paths we could all feel proud of and safer walking upon.

“The vision we have is a traditional Town Center within the community with small town charm and urban sophistication,” said Doug Blevins, president at the time. “Our mission has been to assist in creating a greater environment for residents, art, and commerce.”

From economic development to enhanced designs, the group sought to change the face of the Drive to a subtler yet sophisticated shopping area, adding security, safety, and opportunity to the mix.

First established in 2004, the group sought to bolster the quality of life for residents and guests along the drive, promoting arts, culture, entertainment and special events in Wilton Manors.

The WMMS Street Initiative also hoped to beautify the street and improve pedestrian safety, adding over 100 parking spaces and narrowing the road to smaller and safer lanes. They knew and we all understood that with the city’s growth, Wilton Drive was unsafe and dangerous.

The fundamental heart of the initiative allowed the city to take back control of Wilton Drive (State Road 811) from Florida’s Department of Transportation, changing the road from four lanes to two, using the extra driving lanes as paid parking and completely landscaping the area.

We already knew that pedestrian deaths in Florida are higher than elsewhere in the nation, and as more drivers used the Wilton Manors roads later in the evening to patronize local venues, more serious accidents would occur on Wilton Drive. They have, and you did not need to be a rocket scientist to see it coming. We all did, from editorial writers to city planners to community leaders.

The issue was then, and is now, far more compelling than just adding parking meters and building a parking lot. In articles SFGN published in March and April of 2010, our paper noted that from New York to Idaho, cities were innovatively and effectively addressing aesthetics and safety in their communities.

Now it was our turn. Or so we thought.

“We want to achieve similar goals on The Drive,” Tom Tabor stated. Five years later, it is easy to see we have not. We know what’s wrong. We know what we had to do. We just have not done it.

Instead of building safer roads yesterday, our city commissioners are posting warning signs today about how unsafe we really are. In other words, instead of cleaning up the polluted lake you swim in, we are just posting advisories for you not to drink the water.

This unsurprising political ineffectiveness explains why Donald Trump is leading in all the polls. Faced with an obvious problem that needed solving, five years later you look at the situation and see that the politicians in power have achieved nothing.

What happened to the federal grant? What did the city do about raising matching funds? What happened to the task force? What happened to Ordinance 962, designed to turn a deadly state road into a neighborhood Main Street?

Our civic leaders still have dreams we can change. They now operate under the umbrella of the Wilton Manors Development Alliance, “sustaining small town charm, creating urban sophistication.”

They view the Drive as a place where “commerce art and housing enthusiastically coexist and provide mutual nourishment.”

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “our castles need to be in the air, but we must build foundations under them.”

Dreams are nice. Deeds are better.

Wilton Manors honored the memory of Diane Cline, its former director of the Historical Society by renaming a street in her honor. But the late Ms. Cline would have been more appreciative of having all our roads safer. In 2010, she told city commissioners “Trees don’t kill. Speeding cars do.”

Five years later, we are mourning yet another death of another pedestrian on that same road, this time of a gentle man whose resonating soloist voice illuminated the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus for years.

We will miss you, Greg Futchi. But we never should have lost you this way. Unfortunately, you lived in a city that couldn’t even build a parking lot in five years, let alone provide you with safe roads.

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