Richard Plent walked his bike across busy Missouri Avenue last week, just a few hundred feet south of the crosswalk at Rosery Road. Within minutes, three other pedestrians crossed in the same spot, near a bus stop and Walmart parking lot.
They all made it across okay. But often pedestrians who jaywalk aren't so lucky.
"I see too many of these crashes that are so preventable," said Largo police Sgt. George Edmiston, who heads the department's traffic enforcement unit. In Pinellas, there are 3.24 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, about twice the national average.
"The numbers are consistently high," said Clearwater police Lt. Dan Slaughter, special operations commander who oversees several programs, including traffic enforcement.
Vehicles can provide protection for people when cars crash, he said. "With pedestrians," he said, "there's a high degree of serious bodily injury and fatality."
Next month, both departments plan to kick off traffic details aimed specifically at protecting pedestrians. They're among several law enforcement agencies in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties that are partnering with the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce pedestrian accidents and deaths.
The costs will be covered by a $433,000 grant that the DOT received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The DOT has budgeted $50,000 each for Clearwater and Largo's departments. Over the next several months, the grant money will pay for the enforcement details, which will use officers on overtime.
The DOT created educational materials for the campaign. It also plans to distribute reflective backpacks and refurbish crosswalks throughout the Tampa Bay area to make them more visible, said Kris Carson, DOT spokeswoman.
Edmiston and Slaughter say their main focus will be teaching people to do the right thing. They plan to concentrate on the streets that see the most pedestrian accidents.
In Clearwater, Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard is one of the most problematic roads. In Largo, Missouri Avenue and East Bay Drive are a couple of the troublesome corridors.
"This is not just a citation-issuing campaign," said Edmiston, whose goal is to reduce pedestrian accidents and deaths by 50 percent. "It's about educating, sometimes through enforcement as well."
For the first month, the Clearwater Police Department plans to start mostly with warnings for pedestrians and drivers. After that, it will start to issue citations.
Tickets aren't just hefty for motorists. Pedestrians who are cited for violating traffic laws will have to pay $62.50.
"Part of the goal of this program is to stress that there are risks that aren't worth taking," Slaughter said.
The traffic enforcement teams will keep their eyes peeled for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks or other pedestrians who have the right of way. They will also focus on pedestrians who fail to use nearby crosswalks or ignore traffic signals.
In many cases, pedestrians opt for convenience rather than safety. But some pedestrians say they don't feel safe using crosswalks because many drivers ignore the rules of the road, Edmiston said.
"We need to address that issue as well, to make them feel safer," Edmiston said.
Plent admitted why he crossed the street where he did.
"To get to the other side faster," said Plent, 49. "It's just too hot."
He took the bus from his Seminole home and planned to go shopping at Walmart and to get his bike fixed.
He now knows police are planning to ramp up pedestrian safety efforts soon.
"I'm going to heed the warning," Plent said. "I'll probably save my life in the process."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.