ST. PETE BEACH — A proposal to significantly increase pedestrian safety while crossing Gulf Boulevard here will cost up to $700,000 and will require city and county funding to help pay for it.
According to a state-sponsored study presented to the City Commission last week, at least 12 intersections along Gulf Boulevard from the Pinellas Bayway north to Blind Pass need major improvements to improve pedestrian safety.
The length of Gulf Boulevard from Sand Key to St. Pete Beach averages 14 pedestrian-involved crashes a year, according to a state Department of Transportation study. These crashes result in more than two fatalities and more than nine injuries each year.
The study, which also noted that Florida ranks second nationally in the number of pedestrian fatalities, included specific recommendations, as well as cost estimates, but left open how the project would be paid for.
Crosswalks without enhanced safety features such as medians, flashing lights and special signs can actually increase the chance of pedestrian accidents, according to the study.
However, improved crosswalks cost between $55,000 and $75,000.
"We need to figure out funding between the city, the MPO and the state so we can implement this plan," said Brian Smith, director of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Gulf Boulevard is a state road. In the past, the DOT paid for major improvements, including pedestrian crosswalks.
A DOT spokesperson told the commission that DOT does not have the funds to pay for the pedestrian improvements.
Those crosswalk improvements include installing raised medians to provide pedestrian refuge areas, pedestrian-activated flashing lights, special signs and new turn lanes.
Specifically, the recommendations along Gulf Boulevard include:
• A raised island at the northeast corner of the Pinellas Bayway; a raised median island with left turns on both sides of 37th Avenue; and raised refuge islands with crosswalks, pedestrian signs, flashing beacons and a pedestrian cut-through near the Beach House Suites and Undertow Beach Bar, as well as on the north side of a 7-Eleven driveway.
• Raised median islands at each cross street from 64th to 73rd avenues, an area with a history of pedestrian crashes.
Although the city has received complaints about pedestrian safety along Blind Pass Road, the DOT study recommended against any new median islands, primarily because it found few pedestrians were actually trying to cross the street in areas that do not have crosswalks.
The study also recommended that the city and county conduct a pedestrian enforcement and education campaign.
Mayor Michael Finnerty said the improvements are "desperately needed."
"It's frightening out there," said Commissioner Christopher Leonard, describing close calls with pedestrians that he has witnessed.
Although no formal action was taken, the commission indicated that it plans to hold future workshops with county and state officials to resolve how much of the proposed program could be financed and implemented.