Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Public safety

Six years ago, Pasco officials tried to prevent pedestrian deaths on U.S. 19. Pedestrians are still dying, so they’re trying again.

PORT RICHEY — A little before midnight on April 11, Jamie Patterson, 46, attempted to cross U.S. 19 near State Road 52.

Patterson, of Spring Hill, was crossing when a 2015 Ford Taurus Limited entered the right-turn lane. The car hit her and fled, police said, leaving Patterson dead at the scene .

A cross stood tall in the grass near the intersection long after her death. Pink and blue plastic flowers stuck up around it, slightly wilted from months outdoors. A small white soccer ball lay next to it, and a piece of cement with handwritten letters leaned against the front: "Here lies Jamie Patterson."

Memorials along the side of U.S. 19 are almost as common as a McDonald’s or a drive-up ice machine. Near some intersections, five or six memorials stand in a row — although not all are for pedestrians who died.

For drivers, the highway can be annoying, slow or dangerous. For pedestrians, it presents its own set of perils.

On the nearly 20 miles of U.S. 19 in Pasco County, 44 crashes occurred in 2017 involving pedestrians, and nine of the pedestrians died. The numbers come from Pasco’s pedestrian crash master report — compiled using crash reports from the Florida Highway Patrol.

One in five of all pedestrian crashes in Pasco County last year occurred on U.S. 19. Put another way, about 22 percent of all pedestrian crashes occurred on less than 1 percent of Pasco’s roadways.

For the second time in a decade, representatives from state and local agencies are meeting to try to reduce pedestrian deaths in Pasco County.

A lot has changed since the first plan, said Alex Henry, Florida Department of Transportation bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

"U.S. 19 is and continues to be one of the highest crash quarters in the county," Henry said.

What’s been done

Seven years ago, representatives from the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office gathered for a Pasco Countywide Pedestrian Safety Action Plan workshop.

They discussed data from a 2011 Dangerous by Design report compiled by Transportation for America, an alliance of business and civic leaders across the country focused on creating safe transportation solutions.

Florida had the second highest number of pedestrian fatalities in the country in 2010, and Pasco County had the highest severe-injury pedestrian crash rate in Florida the year before.

In 2011, the year the agencies met, the county had 156 pedestrian crashes, including 17 fatalities, according to county data. Pedestrian crashes on U.S. 19 made up almost 20 percent of the total, with 31 crashes, including four fatalities.

The goal was to change that.

The group identified 24 action items. Since then, the department has completed or is working on at least 16 of these items. .

From 2012 to 2018, FDOT spent nearly $1 million on safety enhancements along U.S. 19 in Pasco County, including $50,000 for education, $300,000 for enforcement and $500,000 for engineering.

In addition, FDOT spent $76 million on construction projects in the same corridor, many of which should make the roadway safer for pedestrians. They included resurfacing, enhancing landscapes, and adding turn lanes, sidewalks and traffic signals.

Since 2012, state and local departments have completed these and other engineering projects from the list:

• FDOT reviewed signal timings along U.S. 19, installing more lights and countdown signals. The department is reviewing crosswalks at these intersections.

• Pasco County established a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee to provide input on pedestrian and bicycle issues.

• The county evaluated the placement of public transportation stops and their proximity to the nearest crosswalk.

• State and local agencies increased enforcement for excessive speed, running red lights and not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.

• FDOT started teaching traffic safety, including educational programs for about 10,000 Pasco high school students a year, and a walking tour through neighborhoods with members of the Florida Highway Patrol.

"We’re trying to impact our future generations," said Peter Hsu, FDOT district safety engineer.

The new plan

A lot of good solutions came out of the 2012 plan, Henry said.

But six years later, pedestrians are still dying in Pasco County , and U.S. 19 remains the most dangerous roadway.

FDOT decided this year to revisit the 2012 pedestrian safety action plan.

The 2018 Pasco County pedestrian and bicycle safety action plans are in the early stages. Representatives from similar groups involved in the 2012 plan met in early August, and an FDOT spokesperson said they’re going through feedback from that meeting

They plan to incorporate that feedback into their strategies, which they hope to present in rough draft form to the public in October or November.

FDOT will spend approximately $100,000 to develop the new action plan, which doesn’t include the agency’s spending on the improvements themselves.

The figure is twice as much as the 2012 plan, in part because it will include a bicycle safety plan. Pasco County had 177 crashes involving bicycles in 2017, with six fatalities, according to the county’s bicycle crash report. Of those crashes, 37 were on U.S. 19.

Local efforts continue

Alongside the task force efforts, officials and agencies in Pasco County also are working to reduce pedestrian deaths.

Jack King, Pasco traffic operations manager, looks at the pedestrian crash master reports each year and figures out what the county can fix.

King looks at intersections with a high crash volume, the time of day most crashes occur and the type of crash. For example, some of the most dangerous intersections with U.S. 19 are State Route 52 and Main Street. Both topped the list for number of crashes each year from 2011 to 2017.

The most important thing King looks for is a trend, he said.

If he notices signal timing causing more crashes, his team can adjust the length of a signal to prevent pedestrians crossing impatiently or crossing without enough time. If he notices a trend in speed enforcement, he can notify the Sheriff’s Office and ask that deputies increase enforcement.

On Little Road, for example, King and his team are upgrading street lighting. They also put in audible pedestrian signals and wheelchair ramps at the Regency Park Boulevard and Fox Hollow Drive intersections after citizen requests.

"Our number one priority here is safety," King said.

The Pasco MPO is working on two major pedestrian safety projects on U.S. 19.

Pasco County and the City of New Port Richey are working together to build an underpass along the Pithlachascotee River under U.S. 19. It would provide another place for pedestrians to cross and would feed the economic development district in Port Richey, said New Port Richey City Manager Debbie Manns.

The project is in its early stages, but Manns said she anticipates it will move quickly.

New Port Richey also wants to build an overpass above U.S. 19 at Marine Parkway.

It is estimated to cost around $3 million. The state initially agreed to allocate $750,000 to the project, but the city had to find the rest. When the city wasn’t able to secure funding last year, the state allocated the money to other projects.

The city is looking for other ways to find funding, Manns said, and is reapplying for grants from the FDOT.

"Those two things would definitely help alleviate the problem and deter people from crossing 19 without crosswalks," said Jeff Starkey, New Port Richey deputy mayor and Pasco MPO member.

At-risk community

Although he hasn’t seen any official data, Starkey said a lot of the pedestrian deaths he hears about involve homeless people.

"People don’t always like to talk about it, but there’s a tremendous amount of homeless people that live up and down U.S. 19," Starkey said. "There’s a lot more foot traffic in the area due to people not being able to afford cars."

The Dangerous by Design report calculates a pedestrian death index, or PDI, for each state and major metropolitan area.

PDI factors in median household income and rates of uninsured people, according to the website. As median household income drops and rates of uninsured individuals go up, PDI rises.

The PDI for the greater Tampa metro area was 192 in 2016, the seventh highest in the country. The highest was the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area with a 283.1 PDI.

Don Anderson, CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County, said he’s noticed many of the pedestrians involved in crashes are homeless or low-income.

Although the county does its best, Anderson said, Pasco doesn’t have adequate public transportation. The 2012 action plan suggested surveying bus drivers to ask which stops had the most pedestrian activity and where agencies should focus transportation improvements. It is unclear if that was completed.

"If you don’t have a residence, oftentimes you have to keep moving," Anderson said. "It means crossing (U.S.) 19 or whatever highway is in your path."

Other than raising awareness, Anderson said his resources for making changes are limited.

He starts with care workers and service providers who work directly with homeless people, making it clear to them that pedestrian deaths on U.S. 19 are a problem.

One of the biggest problems for people without transportation is the lack of crosswalks in close proximity, Starkey said. In some places, pedestrians have to walk almost a mile to reach another crosswalk. He said he thinks the overpass and underpass would help.

Some people might push for crosswalks in other areas of the county, Starkey said, like on side streets or in new subdivisions.

"But to me, we have to look at where people are dying, and currently that’s 19," Starkey said.

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