Transportation and law enforcement officials want to do something other than moan about the high number of pedestrian accidents in Pinellas County. They are about to put some money and muscle where their moan is. Jaywalking pedestrians and drivers who don't yield to pedestrians, prepare to be ticketed.
In Florida, pedestrian accidents account for less than 2 percent of traffic accidents but 7.5 percent of severe crashes and 24 percent of fatal crashes. Tampa Bay has one of the worst pedestrian death rates in the country. In Pinellas, there are 3.24 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people — about double the national average.
Many of the pedestrian accidents happen along heavily traveled state roads. It's a deadly problem the Florida Department of Transportation, which has authority over those roads, wants to solve. So it has developed a plan that combines education with heavier law enforcement. The city of Clearwater is preparing to partner with the DOT on implementing that plan inside city limits.
The DOT will pay the Clearwater Police Department to dedicate officers to keep watch on or near state roads where violations of pedestrian safety laws seem common. The areas that will get special attention are:
• the 1700-1900 block, the 2100-2300 block and the 2800 block of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard;
• the 1300 block of Cleveland Street;
• the 2900 block of State Route 580;
• the 400-800 blocks of Missouri Avenue.
Officers will watch for pedestrians who don't cross at crosswalks — a problem on state roads where crosswalks are sometimes distant from each other. They also will watch for motorists who don't yield to pedestrians who have the right of way — also a problem in our hurry-up culture.
Those who get a ticket will have to pay $62.50, but Clearwater police expect to start by issuing warnings.
The DOT plan also involves an education component. The agency will create printed materials and reflective items for pedestrians to wear. Officials will distribute those materials, along with answering questions about the program, at homeowner and condo association meetings, in churches and senior centers, and in motels and businesses around the city.
The money for the program comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The grant dollars will not be used to hire new city police officers but will cover the overtime costs of the officers assigned to the special patrol teams.
The Clearwater City Council is scheduled to approve its partnership with the DOT on Thursday, but Clearwater is not the only community that will get benefit of those federal funds. The DOT program is being expanded to special problem areas along state roads throughout Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.
The public needs to be educated, so it is good that the DOT plan includes that component. Local laws and enforcement vary so much that residents can be easily confused about whether crossing midblock is legal or illegal.
Informing tourists of the rules may be an even bigger challenge. DOT should consider erecting signs along the state roads in the program to inform pedestrians and motorists of the law and the special enforcement.
It may seem common sense that pedestrians wanting to get across congested multilane roads would go to a crosswalk and that motorists would know to yield to pedestrians, but common sense is too seldom practiced on some Pinellas roads. DOT's much-needed education program, and the threat of a $62.50 ticket, may do the trick.