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Chronic jaywalking along Hillsborough's Fletcher Avenue prompts safety plan

TAMPA — Most of them are on foot. They carry backpacks, push shopping carts, ride bikes or have children in tow. They stand in turn lanes waiting to cross, and dart between traffic to reach the opposite side.

Jaywalking on Fletcher Avenue between Nebraska Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard is so problematic that traffic experts have deemed the 1.5-mile stretch Hillsborough County's most dangerous bike-pedestrian corridor. Three jaywalkers have died since January 2006 and 97 others have been involved in accidents.

"Any time of day, you have people out there standing on the hash marks just dodging traffic," said Peter Brett, manager of the county's traffic engineering section. "They cross anywhere they can."

Now, engineers are pushing an ambitious $4 million proposal to curb jaywalking on Fletcher.

The work, about a year away from breaking ground, will include five mid-block pedestrian crossings, concrete and landscaped medians, and shrubbery along both sides of Fletcher to discourage jaywalkers from stepping into the street.

Signs and strobe lights will warn drivers about the crosswalks, and bike lanes will be added to both sides of Fletcher. The speed limit will drop from 45 to 35 mph.

"We've done this at intersections but not on a whole corridor," Brett said. "That shows the extent of the problem. This corridor has the highest crash rate in the county involving bikes and pedestrians."

About 40,000 vehicles a day travel Fletcher between Nebraska and Bruce B. Downs. It's hard to gauge how many pedestrians cross illegally, but a recent county study found 1,400 pedestrians crossing Fletcher between Nebraska and 50th Street during an eight-hour period.

"I've seen many accidents out here," said Bruno Scipione, owner of Bruno's Pizza Pie at 2301 E Fletcher Ave.

"The cops give out tickets but that only lasts a couple of days, or as soon as the cop leaves, that's it. Anywhere they can cross, they cross," he said.

Nathan Masters, 34, who lives near the University of South Florida, says the problem worsens at night with jaywalkers clad in dark shirts and jeans that make them nearly invisible to drivers.

"You don't see them until you're right on top of them," he said. "I had one guy standing right there in my lane, holding his arms up like I was in his way."

Masters said he's skeptical the proposal will stop jaywalkers and suggested using the money to increase enforcement.

Sheriff's Cpl. Troy J. Morgan said deputies have stepped up their efforts using a $100,000 safety grant this year.

Since January, deputies have issued 3,722 jaywalking warnings and 761 citations at $49.50 each.

Still, he said, the jaywalkers keep crossing and the department doesn't have the staff to station deputies around the clock on every block.

"Let's face it, we're pretty busy with our regular calls for service," he said.

The idea for the $4 million safety project originated from a study two years ago. Most of the design work is complete, and $2.5 million in state and county money has been set aside for construction. Grants to complete the funding are being sought.

Dotted with stores, fast food restaurants and supermarkets, the corridor is flanked with apartments and subdivisions. Many people cross Fletcher Avenue pushing loaded shopping carts. They get halfway across and stand in a turn lane waiting for the traffic to thin before continuing to the other side.

Other people scramble across the road to catch buses. The problem has occurred for so long with such frequency that it has become accepted practice, officials said.

"I once saw a man in a wheelchair going down the middle of the road," Brett said.

Bonzell Stillings, a 22-year-old cooking school student, said he sometimes jaywalks but tries to be careful.

"I look for a break in the traffic," he said.

Stillings said he backs the county's plan, adding that jaywalking wouldn't be a problem if more crosswalks were available. People jaywalk because they don't like the alternative — having to hike two or three blocks out of their way to a crossing.

"I think it's a good idea," he said. "The more crosswalks there are, the more opportunities for people to cross safely."

Chronic jaywalking along Hillsborough's Fletcher Avenue prompts safety plan 10/09/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 9, 2011 8:23pm]
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