TAMPA — Police on motorcycles waited outside the Hillsborough County courthouse on Wednesday afternoon, looking toward the crosswalk at the intersection of Twiggs and East streets.
They pulled over motorists who did not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. They also stopped jaywalkers. Offenders received warnings and pamphlets on pedestrian safety. Twiggs Street lit up with red, white and blue lights, as police snagged multiple cars at a time.
Marti Dickson of the State Attorney's Office said the police effort might look like overkill, but enforcement is very much needed in that area. She said she and her colleagues constantly deal with dangerous drivers at the crosswalk. "We had to push one out of the way because a car was going to hit her," Dickson said.
Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies will continue enforcing crosswalks for now, as the Florida Department of Transportation extended its pedestrian safety grants, officials said at a news conference Wednesday.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and Tampa police will each receive $100,000, and agencies including the Pinellas and Pasco County sheriff's offices will also receive funds. The money will go toward hiring more officers for crosswalk monitoring, officials said.
The goal is to reduce the number of pedestrian deaths in Tampa Bay, a region well-known for them. Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership said that if the bay area were a state, it would rank 16th in the number of pedestrian fatalities.
In Tampa, pedestrian deaths have gone down about 76 percent since the grants took effect in 2010, officials said. Hillsborough County recorded a 19 percent decrease in the same time period.
Tampa police Sgt. Carl Giguere said officers monitor areas such as the roads outside the Hillsborough County courthouse or Palm Avenue near Hillsborough Community College, usually in two-hour blocks. Most people receive warnings, he said, but repeat violators can get citations — $53 for pedestrians, $153 for drivers.
Part of the reason police focus so heavily on crosswalks is that pedestrians who jaywalk can lead to accidents as well, Giguere said.
Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione said she hopes the grants will improve pedestrian safety in Tampa Bay, a metro area that a national study ranked as the second-highest in fatalities in the country.
"We need to change all the statistics we currently have in Tampa in order to elevate the city to be what we know it can be," she said.