Grant program aims to make Florida roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians

Published October 8

In the wake of a Wall Street Journal story tagging Pinellas County as the most dangerous place to ride a bike in America, the Tampa Bay area has once again drawn attention for its rate of cyclists and pedestrian fatalities.

Though a Tampa Bay Times report showed Pinellas is not even worst in Florida when looking at more recent data, the conversation had begun.

Long before the recent chatter, though, the Florida Department of Transportation and the University of North Florida had already started efforts to improve the Bay Area’s reputation.

Beginning in April, FDOT began accepting applications for law enforcement agencies to receive grant money for its High Visibility Enforcement for Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety program. Nearly every law enforcement agency in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties received grant money.

"The goal … is to increase awareness of pedestrian and bicycle-related traffic laws, educate road users on the laws by education and outreach, and enforce the laws," FDOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson said. "The ultimate goal is to reduce pedestrian and bicycle crashes, injuries and fatalities."

As part of program, law enforcement agencies have set up details along roads that are hot spots for crashes involving non-motorists. Officers in those locations pay special attention to traffic safety and enforcement, but focus on education.

"The goal of the program is to target the areas where crashes occur — to put officers in these areas more frequently to educate regarding the law and enforce the law," Tampa police spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "The emphasis will be on education."

The grant money from the state transportation department and university covers the period from July 2018 through May 2019. It is being used to cover the overtime costs of officers working the details.

The funding was made available to the top 25 counties in Florida with the highest combined number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries for the last three years. How much each agency got was determined based on the county’s numbers.

Bay-area communities received grants ranging from a few thousand to more than $100,000. Tarpon Springs got just more than $5,000, while the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office received $26,800. The Clearwater Police Department got $50,000 and St. Petersburg got $75,000. Tampa police received $82,000 while the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office took in $120,000.

Each agency is patrolling its highlighted areas during various times over the course of each week. At the end of the enforcement period, agencies hope to see a reduced number of crashes in the patrolled areas over previous years.

The transportation department and University of North Florida will keep track of the numbers.

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected] Follow @danuscripts.

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