NEW PORT RICHEY — State road safety specialists didn’t need to see the headline in a national online news story in July to know that U.S. 19 in Pasco County is a dangerous place, especially for pedestrians trying to cross the road.
What the Vox story titled “Deadliest Road in America” — which noted 34 fatal pedestrian crashes from 2014 through 2021 — did do was bring awareness and resolve as the Florida Department of Transportation prepares to spend millions of dollars for safety features. Those include new midblock pedestrian crosswalks, upgraded lighting, delayed green lights for vehicle traffic and other intersection changes.
Last week Peter Hsu, the highway safety coordinator for state roads in this region, told Pasco County commissioners that when he saw the Vox story, he thought his agency had been active in gathering information about what was happening on the road and developing and implementing improvements to fix problems, “but still we have the issue.”
He assured commissioners that the department wasn’t done and asked for their support before continuing with more pricey improvements. “We want to use the money in a wise way to make U.S. 19 and Pasco safer,” he said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to support a new initiative, midblock crosswalks, to resolve one vexing pedestrian problem. While motorists might complain that U.S. 19 already has enough stop-and-go with traffic signals, pedestrians could have to walk a half-mile or more to safely cross the road at a crosswalk. Instead, many try unsafe crossings, which officials want to avoid.
Seven locations have been chosen based on the locations of pedestrian and bicycle crashes, the proximity to features that attract pedestrians such as transit stops, the distance between crosswalks and the counts of pedestrian and bike crossings.
The first of those planned will be at Buena Vista Lane and Bartelt Road, which has seen 10 crashes, including one fatality, between 2015 and 2021. Another fatality happened there earlier this year. Work on that crosswalk could start next year, and it would feature a pedestrian-activated red stop light on U.S. 19 to allow crossings.
Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey said that was a bad intersection for accidents. “Sadly,” she said, “I think some of them are because we have some drug houses in that area and people are impaired.”
Additional such crossings are planned at Elizabeth Avenue, San Marco Drive/Johnson Road, Tudor Lane, Charlene Lane, Eastwood Lane/Beacon Square Drive and Louis Avenue.
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The Department of Transportation has collected a stack of statistics showing how U.S. 19 accident and fatality rates are high. But their study has also looked at other stats, including U.S. Census data, which showed high concentrations of households in poverty and disabled residents along the U.S. 19 corridor, populations that walk and use bicycles and transit more frequently.
Surveys, business visits and conversations with those using the highway have also been part of the research officials have conducted to learn more about the population’s habits, distribute safety information and even provide reflective items to make them more visible to cars on the road at night.
Another tool the state is using on U.S. 19 is setting up “leading pedestrian intervals,” which have been put in place at 30 intersections along the road since last year. In these locations, green lights are delayed for motorists by three to 10 seconds, allowing pedestrians to move into the middle of a crosswalk so that drivers making right turns will see the person on the road and be more likely to avoid an accident.
The Department of Transportation is also continuing its LED lighting retrofit for nearly 15 miles from the Pinellas County line north to New York Avenue in Hudson. That project has a price tag of $2.6 million and includes 24 signalized intersections.
The state also has spent $2 million on two new traffic signals and improved crosswalks. Another $2.7 million in added crosswalks has been completed at other intersections, with an additional $400,000 set aside for three more.
Commissioners said they were pleased with the state projects and their focus on safety.
Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested that the agency might consider building pedestrian bridges over the roadway in some areas as other states have done. But he specifically suggested basic bridges, which would move the foot and bike traffic but would not be designed to cost millions of dollars to construct.
Mariano also took the opportunity to put in a good word for a pet project of the county and cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey: a pedestrian, bike and golf cart crossing under the Cotee River Bridge. It is a project the state has not yet funded, at least partially because it does not typically pay for golf cart pathways.