Pedestrians waving bright yellow reflective flags as they cross Gulf Boulevard soon may become a normal sight along Pinellas County's beaches.
At least, that is what state, county and local officials hope.
More important, they hope the federally funded $26,000 flag program will sharply reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities and injuries along the busy beach road where tourists often cross to reach hotels, parks, restaurants and bars.
Just three weeks ago a pedestrian was killed in Treasure Island as he crossed Gulf Boulevard with his fiancee, who was not injured.
In that accident, as well as an earlier fatality in April and a pedestrian hit-and-run Monday night, the flags wouldn't have made a difference. In each case, the pedestrians were crossing Gulf Boulevard outside designated crosswalks.
Florida has the dubious distinction of the second highest number of pedestrians killed in vehicle crashes throughout the country in the past five years, according to the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization.
In Pinellas County alone, each year an average of 28 people die in pedestrian crashes, and nearly 100 people suffer incapacitating injuries.
Most pedestrian fatalities along Gulf Boulevard occur between 6 p.m. and midnight, and just over one-third of pedestrians are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Transportation.
Now the DOT, in conjunction with county and local officials, is hoping a coordinated program of engineering, enforcement and education will improve pedestrian safety.
About a month ago, the DOT installed buckets holding about 300 reflective flags on both sides of 31 midblock crosswalks along 13.5 miles of Gulf Boulevard from Indian Rocks Beach to St. Pete Beach.
So far, reports from law enforcement and city officials on how many pedestrians use the flags are mixed.
"The younger kids love them. They just whip that thing around. I also have seen elderly people use them, but I see people cross without them, too," says Steve Hallock, public services director for St. Pete Beach.
Some drivers don't know what to make of them. St. Pete Beach officials received one call from an irate driver complaining that "some guy was crossing the street waving a flag."
In Madeira Beach few people are using the flags, according to Public Works Director Mike Maxemow.
That city has pedestrian flags installed at seven locations along Gulf Boulevard — the most of all the beach cities.
Pedestrians in Treasure Island increasingly are using the flags at that city's six locations, according to Administrative Sgt. Armand Boudreau.
Not using a crosswalk can be a violation of state law and result in a $62.50 fine if the jaywalking occurs within a block of a marked crosswalk.
"You've got to make eye contact with drivers. You can't assume they know they are supposed to stop," said Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence, who used the flags himself to cross Gulf Boulevard.
Pedestrians might find themselves ticketed if they jaywalk outside marked crosswalks. A DOT grant is paying overtime for law enforcement efforts at the Sheriff's Office and the Treasure Island, St. Pete Beach and Indian Shores police departments.