TAMPA — Pedestrian-activated beacons started flashing Wednesday morning at three intersections along Bayshore Boulevard — the latest attempt at improving safety along the winding, scenic thoroughfare.
Buttons are ready to punch at Bayshore’s intersections with S Dakota Avenue and S Delaware Avenue, and between S Brevard and W Swann Avenue. Pedestrians can make the lights flash for about 35 seconds, signalling traffic to stop. They can do it again, if needed, once they reach the median of the four-lane, divided road.
The addition of the beacons comes five months after a mother visiting from Ohio and her 21-month-old daughter were fatally struck by a racing sports car while they were attempting to cross the divided street.
"It was time for Bayshore to be safer and better for all users, not just cars," said Jean Duncan, Tampa’s director of transportation and storm water services
Duncan says the city plans to install and activate four more flashing beacons by the end of the year, all south of Howard Avenue.
"I’m glad there’s something here now; it gives me a little bit more peace of mind," said Kenitra Odom, walking next to Bayshore on Wednesday morning with her 2-year-old son. "There’s just so many curves and people speeding. You used to have to find straight pieces of road and just wait."
Still, the beacons weren’t enough to stop traffic immediately for 36-year-old Kelsey Unsworth and her 9-month-old son as they waited to cross Bayshore. Unsworth needed the intervention of a city worker waving his hands before drivers finally paid attention.
"It might take some time and ticket enforcement from police before drivers really acknowledge the lights, especially during rush hour," Unsworth said. "I feel great that they’re there now, though. It’ll take time to be fully effective, but it’s still safer than crossing at Rome, where I live."
Duncan agreed it will take a little time for some drivers to fully adjust. The city plans to use variable message boards and social media to help get the word out about paying closer attention.
"Drivers have to change their old habits," she said.
The fine for failing to stop for pedestrians at a flashing beacon is $153, said Eddy Durkin, a Tampa police spokesman. The same fine will be issued to drivers who attempt to pass another vehicle stopped at a flashing beacon, Durkin said.
Duncan said she expects Tampa police will focus more on educating than writing tickets during the first days of the beacons’ operation. Pedestrians, too, need to pay attention, she said, and not rely on the beacons alone to safely cross.
The beacons are a part of the final stage of the city’s Bayshore Safety Enhancement project, which also includes adding a bike lane, narrowing traffic lanes and lowering the speed limit from 40 to 35 mph.
"Our goal is to make the road safer and make people accustomed to the changes as quick as possible," Duncan said. "Bayshore is no longer a two-stops-at-stoplights road."