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Increased enforcement brings fewer pedestrian fatalities, but money's running out

Largo police have had success in reducing the number of pedestrian fatalities. In the seven months of increased enforcement, there was just one fatality in Largo; in the previous seven months there were five. Largo ran out of its $50,000 grant in January, ending the enforcement.


Largo police have had success in reducing the number of pedestrian fatalities. In the seven months of increased enforcement, there was just one fatality in Largo; in the previous seven months there were five. Largo ran out of its $50,000 grant in January, ending the enforcement.

Largo's roads were about as deadly for pedestrians as they come in Tampa Bay.

Five pedestrians were killed in a recent seven-month stretch. All were crossing mid-block. Previous years saw similarly high death tolls.

Something needed to be done, police said.

As part of a wider crackdown around Tampa Bay, Largo police launched the first pedestrian enforcement effort in the city's history last July, issuing more than 2,200 warnings and citations in seven months.

In the first two months, they issued nearly 400 tickets a month. The number dropped to 358 a month, then 305. Finally, in the last month, 264. One pedestrian was killed during that period.

"There were still violations, but compliance was up," Sgt. George Edmiston said.

They were saving lives.

In a region notorious for pedestrian fatalities, was this the solution?

• • •

Tampa Bay is routinely ranked among the deadliest places for pedestrians in America.

That's what residents tell family back home. What snowbirds quickly remember. What visitors rapidly realize.

A pedestrian is injured every seven hours in Tampa Bay, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Every five days, a pedestrian is killed.

In 2009, the most recent statistics available, 1,154 pedestrians were injured and 76 were killed.

The human impact can't be measured just by numbers.

Families are wrecked and friends devastated. Dozens of drivers every year must live with a death on their conscience.

The names of the victims dot newspaper pages and fill TV screens around here.

Then they're gone — numbers in an ongoing tragedy with few signs of changing.

• • •

At law enforcement agencies around Tampa Bay, there is hope the new focus on pedestrian safety is having a meaningful impact.

Tampa police have not seen any fatal crashes at the 10 enforcement sites set up since August. Moreover, they are seeing behavior toward pedestrians starting to change.

"At first we'd see a lot more violations," said Tampa police traffic Cpl. Greg Weekes. "Not a lot of people were even aware that they needed to yield" when a pedestrian was in a crosswalk.

Weekes said they are starting to see more compliance. Officers are issuing fewer and fewer citations every time they go out.

They have issued 1,224 citations and 698 warnings.

Unlike some other agencies, Weekes said, they primarily targeted vehicles that didn't yield to pedestrians.

St. Petersburg police said they have seen fewer pedestrian accidents this year than for a comparable period last year.

"It's a promising trend and I hope it holds," said St. Petersburg police traffic commander Bill Korinek.

However, two pedestrians have been killed since January — including one on a block where police were issuing warnings and tickets just a week earlier.

So far, St. Petersburg police have issued about 335 warnings and citations to pedestrians and drivers.

Korinek said a couple of other traffic details have recently ended and they were going to pick up the pace on pedestrian safety enforcement.

• • •

Overall, eight law enforcement agencies in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties joined with the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce pedestrian accidents and deaths starting this past fall.

The costs are covered by a $430,000 grant that the DOT received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The money pays officers' overtime.

Florida transportation officials say this is the first time they have had money for pedestrian safety enforcement in Tampa Bay.

It's too early to quantify whether the hours and hours of enforcement have had much of an impact. That won't fully be known until University of South Florida experts working with FDOT compile the data and analyze the effectiveness of the campaign.

But, anecdotally, they say it's making a difference.

"We've noticed a big, big change in behavior with trying to make everyone aware," said Jeanette Rouse, an FDOT program manager for the law enforcement contracts.

How do you get pedestrians and motorists to change their behavior?

"Changing someone's behavior, making them be more predictable, responsible, is difficult," said David Skrelunas, a safety programs manager with FDOT.

The pedestrian enforcement efforts mesh with education and engineering efforts. FDOT will spend $2 million refreshing crosswalks to make sure they are visible and adding crosswalk countdown lights. The education campaign includes distributing backpacks, giving presentations and posting information about pedestrian safety around Tampa Bay.

• • •

Largo ran out of its $50,000 grant in January, ending the enforcement efforts.

Compliance began to wane and people started returning to old habits, Edmiston said. He has noticed more and more people jaywalking.

Edmiston hopes he will have a second installment of $50,000 in April at his disposal, allowing enforcement to resume.

But he worries: What happens when that runs out?

"It's going to take time," he said. "It's great to hit it for seven months, but this is something that is really going to be an ongoing strategy."

Follow the money

The Florida Department of Transportation won a $430,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to give to Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies. It's the first time they've given money to Tampa Bay agencies for pedestrian enforcement and education. Here's what each local agency got so far:

New Port Richey police$10,000
Pinellas Park police$20,000
Clearwater police$50,000
Largo police$50,000
St. Petersburg police$50,000
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office$20,000
Tampa police$100,000

County Sheriff's Office

Increased enforcement brings fewer pedestrian fatalities, but money's running out 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 11:12pm]
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