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Hillsborough County says 'senior zones' ensure safer street crossings

John Rainey crosses Waters Avenue at Northbridge Boulevard where the county has created a “senior zone.” A special camera, aimed down at the painted pedestrian on the sidewalk, triggers the crossing signal when someone is stopped on the figure.


John Rainey crosses Waters Avenue at Northbridge Boulevard where the county has created a “senior zone.” A special camera, aimed down at the painted pedestrian on the sidewalk, triggers the crossing signal when someone is stopped on the figure.

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Crosswalks alone may not be enough to protect pedestrians, especially jaywalkers.

But two county "senior zones" that include several safety features may be doing their part.

Take the special senior zone on Waters Avenue, which stretches from just east of Sheldon Road to Pinehurst Drive.

There, the speed was reduced to 35 mph, down from 45. Also, the county installed blinking warning lights and speed detectors that show how fast a driver is going. There also is more road paint striping and high-tech crosswalks that have longer crossing times.

But as Ruth Holmes, 62, waited recently at the bus stop across the street from the Rocky Creek Retirement Village, a handful of bicyclists and walkers did not use the designated crosswalk at Northbridge Boulevard, just west of Pinehurst.

But Holmes did. She always pushes the button and uses the crosswalk. She does not understand the jaywalkers who don't.

"I think that's an idiot," Holmes said.

Hillsborough County officials say the experiment with senior zones is working. The first was created in 2006 on Fletcher Avenue, from Magnolia Drive to N 42nd Street, near the John Knox Village retirement community.

Speed and accidents near the senior zones have since decreased, said Buz Barbour, who manages traffic programs for Hillsborough County Traffic Services.

"We just can't control where the people can cross. We just can give them the best opportunity to cross," Barbour said.

Crashes near John Knox Village have decreased by 30 percent compared to before the zone was installed. Barbour said an accident comparison for the zone on Waters is not available because it is too new. Speeds on both of the busy roads have decreased 15 percent.

The county recently won a Best Practices Award from the Southern Gerontological Society for the senior zones.

Barbour said the criteria for a community to request a senior zone includes having a licensed assisted living facility on a high-volume road. About 40,000 cars travel daily on Fletcher Avenue and about 32,000 cars travel daily on Waters, according to a 2008 Hillsborough County Automobile Level of Service Report.

There is no county funding for more senior zones, Barbour said, although grants or other money for communities could be available.

The zone on Waters features some high-tech trinkets to bolster safety, including a special camera that triggers the crossing signal at Northbridge.

The camera eye is tripped when someone stands in a black painted box on the sidewalk. Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorized scooter users have about 38 seconds to cross the six-lane road.

Tara Christiani, 52, has lived around the corner from the crosswalk in Town 'N Country for 25 years. She walks down Waters to work at Target. She thinks the crossing time in the senior zone should be increased. However, she said further reducing the speed limit would be unnecessary.

The first zone was created three years ago in response to residents who wanted to make it safer to pull out onto busy Fletcher near John Knox Village, not far from the University of South Florida. It was too expensive to install a $300,000 light pole, so officials created the senior zone for about $36,000.

A similar zone was created for about $34,000 on Waters about a year later. The zone was a response to the death of Joseph A. Way who was hit in June 2006 while riding his scooter, which he called "Cadillac."

The 81-year old amputee was crossing Waters at Northbridge near where Holmes waits for the bus and watches jaywalkers.

Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 269-5314 or [email protected]

Hillsborough County says 'senior zones' ensure safer street crossings 06/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 11:10am]
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