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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Orlando is a car-reliant hellscape. Tanya Wilder hopes to fix it

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2021 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Some proposals for Future Orlando include bicycles with their own green pathways on which to ride, divided from both traffic and pedestrians. - IMAGE VIA CITY OF ORLANDO & COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY
  • Image via City of Orlando & Community Redevelopment Agency
  • Some proposals for Future Orlando include bicycles with their own green pathways on which to ride, divided from both traffic and pedestrians.

Central Florida remains one of the fastest-growing regions of the nation, and with that growth comes plenty of traffic woes, but Tanya Wilder hopes these problems will soon be a thing of the past.

The lifelong Orlando resident has worked for the City of Orlando for eight years, with the last four as a Transportation Policy Advisor. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer selected Wilder to be the director of the city's transportation department earlier this year.



In announcing the selection, Mayor Dyer stated Wilder’s knowledge and expertise “will be instrumental toward achieving the City’s goals of reimagining and reinventing our transportation network to ensure equitable access for all by expanding multimodal choices for residents, workers, and visitors.”

click image Tanya Wilder, the Transportation Director for the City of Orlando. - IMAGE VIA CITY OF ORLANDO
  • Image via City of Orlando
  • Tanya Wilder, the Transportation Director for the City of Orlando.
Now settling into her new position, Wilder sat down with Orlando Weekly to discuss what she envisions for a region infamous for its car-reliant infrastructure.

“My goal is to diversify and to focus beyond just roads and make it more people-centric than car-centric,” she said.
“Imagine having a mixed-use project with multifamily where you have walkability, dedicated bike lanes, green space, paths to trails, and then you have a link to access LYNX.”

This multimodal approach is already being realized in pockets throughout the City, from the Packing District to the Creative Village to the Lake Nona Town Center. With the rise of autonomous delivery robots and scooter users on sidewalks, the demands of the pedestrian pathways are forcing them to evolve. Moving forward, Wilder hopes to see sidewalks wide enough to ensure all users easy usage.
click image A proposed park extension for Lake Eola using land purchased by the Orlando Land Trust - PHOTO COURTESY THE PEOPLE'S LAKE/INSTAGRAM
  • Photo courtesy the People's Lake/Instagram
  • A proposed park extension for Lake Eola using land purchased by the Orlando Land Trust
Focusing on placemaking is crucial in shifting the region into a more pedestrian-friendly place. Still, Wilder recognizes more must be done with mass transit if people are expected to ever give up their cars, even for the shortest of trips.

Wilder wants to see more “seamless connectivity” between the transit options in the region, such as SunRail and Lynx.

“People value reliability. People want to arrive on time and in an efficient manner,” she said.

Downtown Orlando's Lymmo buses, some of which run in bus-dedicated lanes, should be fully electric by next year. Those hop-on, hop-off style buses have seen success in downtown and now include multiple routes stretching from the sports district in Parramore to Thornton Park.
click to enlarge Artist's concept of a reimagined, pedestrian-friendly Magnolia Avenue in downtown Orlando. It features many of the characteristics used in the Thornton Park parklets. - IMAGE VIA CITY OF ORLANDO & COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY
  • Image via City of Orlando & Community Redevelopment Agency
  • Artist's concept of a reimagined, pedestrian-friendly Magnolia Avenue in downtown Orlando. It features many of the characteristics used in the Thornton Park parklets.
There’s hope that Lynx can increase route speeds by optimizing stops and increasing bus dedicated lanes in the City. Wilder also hopes to see Lynx use the toll lanes currently being built as part of the I-4 Ultimate Project. Bus lanes are also under development or being considered throughout the City, most notably on the 408, Kirkman Boulevard, and in the tourist corridor.

Connectivity between SunRail and the upcoming terminal at the Orlando International Airport has been a goal for years. Brightline, the private intercity rail, should open its Orlando to Miami line by 2023. That would connect the airport to South Florida. A future phase now under negotiation will connect Brightline to SunRail via the Meadow Woods station before stopping at Disney World and heading to Tampa. Wilder also expects to see SunRail eventually connect directly to the airport with that project next in line after the commuter rail’s extension from DeBary to DeLand, the final phase of the original route.

A line heading into Lake County, known as the Orange Blossom Express, would’ve connected downtown Eustis, Mount Dora and Tavares with Apopka, Winter Garden, the Packing District and downtown Orlando. After pushback from leaders in Lake County, that project now looks dead.

However, Wilder stated some officials of Orange County communities, including the former mayor of Apopka, are still hoping to eventually realize at least the Orange County section of that route. But Wilder clarified any such expansions to SunRail are still far off as the focus right now remains on the DeLand and airport connections.

The need for improved mass transit is also linked to the region’s largest industry: tourism. Wilder explains that on a Lynx bus, “from the [Orlando International] Airport to the convention center ... takes 57 minutes with 23 stops. We need to find a better way. Imagine being able to take people from the airport to the convention center in a trip of fewer than 30 minutes."

And Wilder is definitely thinking regionally. Though many problem areas fall outside the jurisdiction of the city, Wilder tries to work with county and state officials to provide traffic and transit improvements as quickly as possible.

For example, Orlando recently provided labor and covered upfront costs for a new traffic signal at an intersection in the tourist corridor despite the intersection being outside of the city. The goal of reducing fatalities in the area outweighed any ideas of jurisdiction.
click image The Under-I park in development underneath I-4 in downtown Orlando. - ILLUSTRATION VIA THE CITY OF ORLANDO
  • Illustration via The City of Orlando
  • The Under-I park in development underneath I-4 in downtown Orlando.
Those same efforts can be seen in downtown, where Orlando is working with the state to coordinate future traffic and transit on state-managed roads. There have been proposals to rework downtown streets to two-way traffic, including on Orange Avenue and Magnolia Avenue, both of which require Florida Department of Transportation approval. Those plans are “in the infancy stage,” according to Wilder.

“We have a really good partnership, and I say that earnestly, with the state, and with District Five’s Secretary Perdue and [Director of Transportation Development] Loreen Bobo.”

The Florida Department of Transportation District Five, which covers all of Central Florida from Flagler County to Osceola County with the exception of Polk County, has worked with the City on several projects, including updates to Robinson Street in downtown and Audubon Park’s Corrine Drive, which also required input from with the City of Winter Park.

“The typical driver does not know if it's a county, state or city road. All they know is they want to get to their appointment, or home to their families, or to pick up their kids from school, or wherever it may be. So, it's having that coordinated effort and communicating together,” explains Wilder. “We all have the common goal, and the common goal is to make that road better.”

Wilder is hopeful recently passed legislation in D.C. will open more opportunities for funding to speed up transit and traffic reduction projects across the region. Central Florida saw multiple transit improvements financed through the 2009 Recovery Act. Since then, the City has only increased efforts in building pedestrian-forward complete streets, and future investments will help enhance these multimodal initiatives.

The emphasis on shifting the City from a sprawl-filled suburban model connected with ever-expanding highways to a more pedestrian-friendly community is, according to Wilder, something that Mayor Dyer is now focused on throughout City Hall.

“We want to make a place where people don't have to drive and depend on their car. We want them to be here and have the ability to go ten minutes [to work or shopping, via] walking, or riding [a bus or SunRail], or biking, or whatever it may be,” explains Wilder. “Every department is trying to find ways to work together to make that happen. We all have a role here at the City in wanting Orlando to be world-class.”



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