CLEARWATER — It's Friday afternoon and Clearwater police Officer Andrew Anderson is on the prowl for jaywalkers on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. It doesn't take long before he sees a pedestrian dart across the six-lane road — one of Pinellas County's busiest.
Anderson whips his cruiser into a U-turn and writes out a $62.50 ticket for the accused offender, Mike Ferrel.
Ferrel isn't happy.
"I have no money, no revenue," Ferrel says. "How am I going to pay the ticket?"
"I don't want to be out here for 10 hours mapping the scene of your death," Anderson replies.
"I won't get hit by a car," Ferrel argues. "That's an assumption."
Perhaps Ferrel is right and he will never get hit while crossing busy streets without benefit of pedestrian signals or crosswalks. However, many aren't so lucky. The Tampa Bay area is one of the most dangerous places in the country for pedestrians. While Anderson is on patrol this day, a call comes in on his radio that a van has hit a pedestrian near Fort Harrison Avenue and Turner Street.
The Clearwater Police Department is ramping up enforcement of jaywalking, and bicycle and motor vehicle crosswalk violations, using funding from a High Visibility Enforcement Grant awarded by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The $29,036 grant will be used to pay overtime for police officers so they can both educate the public and enforce existing traffic laws in the name of pedestrian safety. The initiative began in March and will continue for six months.
"This is a multifaceted program," Clearwater police Lt. David Dalton said. "Our primary goal is awareness and education and then comes the enforcement phase."
As part of the education phase, Clearwater officers stop jaywalkers and give them a warning, talking to the violators about the importance of pedestrian safety. Officers also give out bike lights to people riding without them. Bike lights are required by law for riders at night.
Each week starts with education patrols and ends with enforcement patrols. Anderson was part of the enforcement phase, giving out four jaywalking tickets in two hours on Friday.
"If at least one person decides to stop playing Frogger with their life, all these tickets will be worth it," he said.
Florida ranks third in the nation for pedestrian fatalities. In 2013, Pinellas County had 20 pedestrian and nine bicycle fatalities.
"Generally, if you look at states that rank very high in pedestrian accidents, they tend to be states that show a huge influx in population in the past 40 years, states that show a lot of outward development," said Steve Benson, FDOT's district safety program manager.
As part of the grant, the city is seeking ways to improve its roads to be more accommodating to pedestrians. According to Dalton, officers on patrol are asked to look for key areas where the city can improve its pedestrian safety infrastructure. This includes adding more crosswalks or providing lighting to existing ones.
Enforcement alone will not solve the traffic safety problem, Benson said. In the past, when officers stop enforcement, pedestrians go back to jaywalking. Dalton believes incorporating education alongside enforcement will help stop that from happening.
Both men agree large-scale change will take time.
"Click It or Ticket took 50 years but showed big increases in compliance," Benson said. "We've only been on a pedestrian safety push for 10 years."
Will Hicks can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.