You'd think that the combination of flashing lights, gates and railroad tracks would be enough to make folks stop and take a second look.
But according to Annette Lapkowski of the nonprofit organization Operation Lifesaver, more than half the collisions at Florida's railroad crossings each year happen where those kinds of warning devices are in place.
To remind people to pay attention, Gov. Charlie Crist has designated April 19-25 as the state's 11th annual Train Safety Awareness Week. The idea is to heighten public awareness — for pedestrians and motorists alike — about the dangers of treating crossings casually.
Operation Lifesaver's Web site points to more sobering statistics: A typical locomotive weighs about 200 tons. Add 100 railcars and the train can weigh up to 6,000 tons, which means the weight ratio of an automobile to a train is proportional to that of a soda can and an auto. The group also says that a 100-car freight train traveling at 55 mph needs more than a mile to stop once the train's emergency brake has been engaged.
Florida is tied with California for second in the number of fatalities at railroad crossings in 2008 with 25 deaths. We've had more than 500 railroad crossing collisions that resulted in the deaths of 80 people in the past five years. It's a no-brainer that your chances of survival are pretty slim if your car collides with a train, but folks persist in tempting the laws of physics as well as Florida traffic law.
The most idiotic things motorists do related to train crossings include disregarding the lights, warning bells and gates that come down as a train approaches; trying to race the gates before they close; or racing to beat the train at crossings where gates don't exist.
Crist's office says that enforcement of traffic laws near railroad crossings (including pedestrian trespassing) will be stepped up statewide during the weeklong observance.
Bryan Dairy Road and U.S. 19
Overpass signal timing to improve as work ends
Reader David Piper wrote to us to ask about the final touches being made to the new overpasses at Bryan Dairy Road and U.S. 19, specifically the timing of the traffic lights.
Piper wrote: "Dear Doc, when the Bryan Dairy Road expansion was completed a few years ago, the project's goal was to take some of the congestion away from Ulmerton Road and provide another major east/west corridor through Pinellas County. Ideally one should be able to drive from Seminole to the I-275 on-ramp at Bryan Dairy/118th and 28th without having to stop for the lights at Starkey Road, U.S. 19 and 49th Street. I understand that the overpass is primarily for U.S. 19 traffic, but could it not also help with the Bryan Dairy situation?"
We checked in with Ken Jacobs, traffic signal operations manager for Pinellas County, who said that although the overpasses are in use on U.S. 19 over Bryan Dairy and 110th Avenue, construction is not complete.
Jacobs said work is continuing on the north-south service roads. The contractor has continually modified the timing at each of these signals, but until the service roads are complete and all the lanes are fully operational, we won't get a feel for the faster, smoother trip we will one day have from Seminole to the interstate.
But it does give us something to look forward to. Jacobs says that once it's complete, the corridor will be "efficient," which means "totally awesome" to the Doc.
Attending the big race? Check out Web site
For information on downtown parking and free shuttle service during the Grand Prix, which runs through Sunday, and a printable route map of the shuttle, check out the events page at www.Looper Trolley.com.
Please e-mail Dr. Delay at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions.