1. Transportation

Those crosswalks with amber flashing lights are everywhere. Some dos and don'ts.

CHRIS URSO | Times A pedestrian uses a lighted, mid-block crosswalk on Fourth Street N near 20th Avenue N in St. Petersburg earlier this month. The crosswalks, called “rectangular rapid flashing beacons,” are becoming more common across Tampa Bay as transportation planners try to improve safety for walkers and cyclists. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Dec. 26, 2018

They have a clunky sounding name — "rectangular rapid flashing beacons." But the electronic crosswalk signs that have been popping up all over Tampa Bay in recent years have a clear purpose.

Transportation planners say they're helping to prevent accidents in one of the nation's most deadly regions for walkers and bikers. And they have plans to install even more of them.

The blinking, amber signals are designed for mid-block locations where people tend to cross the street illegally, even though an intersection is 200 feet or so down the road.

Pedestrians at those spots often are headed to high-demand destinations, so traffic engineers figure they'll be crossing regardless. The goal is to create a logical walkway.

"You can put a traffic signal every quarter of a mile, but sometimes you still don't see people crossing where they should," said Hillsborough County traffic management engineer Brian Gentry. "If they're actually doing it, you want to make it as safe as possible."

People who want to cross without walking to a traffic signal can hit the button, which activates a rectangular flashing light. The light, which flashes in an irregular pattern, indicates cars and bikes are required to stop until the pedestrian has crossed those lanes of traffic.

Hundreds of the special crosswalks now exist on popular roadways such as Gulf Boulevard along Pinellas County's beaches, Fourth Street in St. Petersburg and Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. However, many people still don't know exactly how they're supposed to interact with them.

Drivers make the mistake of not stopping when they should, or waiting longer than required. Some pedestrians hesitate to trigger the signal, not wanting to be rude for stopping traffic. Others don't push the button at all, not realizing the flashing beacon is the necessary signal to motorists.

"That's one thing we need to be doing more with is education, because people don't understand how they should be using them," Gentry said.

Here are some tips for how to use these crosswalks safely.

For drivers:

• You must stop when the light is flashing and a pedestrian is crossing.

• You don't have to stay stopped the entire time the light is flashing, only when someone is crossing. That's why the signals use an amber light, signaling caution, as opposed to a red light, which would indicate a complete stop.

• Once the person or bike clears through your side of traffic and is on the other side of the median, you can go.

For pedestrians:

• Make sure to push the button. The flashing light is what helps drivers realize there is someone crossing outside of an intersection.

• Take a defensive approach and scan the road to make sure vehicles are yielding before stepping into the roadway.

• Always make eye contact with the motorist before crossing.

Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, the county's transportation planning agency, said he has observed that some pedestrians seem to feel bad about using the crosswalks.

"Generally, people tend not to want to impose any kind of delay on automobile traffic," Blanton said. "The perception is, 'I don't want to be perceived as a jerk if I'm a pedestrian or a cyclist. I'm courteous. I'm respectful.'"

But those crossing the street have every right to press the button and stop traffic, he said. That's why cities and counties spend $10,000 a pop to install the signals in hopes of making streets safer.

St. Petersburg resident Steve Miller said the signals are a great concept but don't always work well in real life. Miller, 31, said he's seen cars wait in front of a flashing light, even when no one is crossing. He pointed to the crosswalk at Sundial in downtown St. Petersburg, where the beacon flashes constantly, as an example.

"Cars will stop at them when no one is around and just sit there," Miller said.

Val Boyle, 63, of Palm Harbor, spoke positively about the beacons, saying too many drivers have become complacent regarding standard crosswalks and can disregard them. The light helps grab their attention, she said.

But some drivers expressed frustration about the crosswalks being installed outside of intersections where people might not expect them.

"I'm having a hard time adjusting to random spots, not at intersections, on roads I've traveled for years without them," said Melissa Wild, 33, of Dunedin.

Mark Calvert of Tierra Verde shared Wild's concern, saying problems arise in the period after the new crosswalks are installed, before drivers are accustomed to them.

"They may get a sudden flashing and slam on the brakes, or not be aware and barrel through," Calvert, 59, said.

Despite those concerns, the lights are highly effective, with a compliance rate of 85 to 90 percent in Pinellas, depending on the location, Blanton said.

"People are responding to these," he said. "In general, people aren't blowing through these signals."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (727)-893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.


  1. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver Rekira Owens is seen at the wheel behind a newly installed shield as they board the bus on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Tampa.  The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed earlier this year. A bus driver on Tuesday was operating a vehicle without a shield when he was attacked by a rider. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times
    About 75 buses still need the clear, plastic doors. The transit authority plans to install eight a day.
  2. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (far right) and her dog Alcaldesa joined students from Rampello K-8 Magnet School on a Nov. 14 walk across the school's newly-painted crosswalk, located at the intersection of Jefferson and Washington streets in downtown Tampa. CITY OF TAMPA  |  City of Tampa
    Hundreds of transportation and public safety advocates from across the country brought their ideas to Tampa for the Safe Routes to School National Conference.
  3. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The driver’s injuries appear non-life threatening, and a suspect is in custody.
  4. Travelers make their way to baggage claim at Orlando International Airport in August. Officials expect 1.75 million passengers to pass through the airport during the Thanksgiving holiday season.
    Officials at Orlando International Airport on Monday said they expect traffic to increase 6% from 2018.
  5. More than 800 rear-seat passengers who weren’t wearing seat belts were killed last year in U.S. traffic crashes.
  6. MSC Cruises brought the MSC Meraviglia to Port Miami to begin its first-ever season of sailing from Florida. The 171,598-gross-ton, 4,500-passenger vessel is tied with a sister ship as the 7th largest ship in the world. MSC CRUISES
    Meraviglia, which means “wonder” in Italian, debuted in 2017, and has among unique offerings a 450-person venue for original Cirque du Soleil shows.
  7. Much work has been completed on the Selmon Extension project, but we still have a way to go before the construction and ongoing detours on Gandy Boulevard end by the projected fall 2020 completion date. MONIQUE WELCH  |  Monique Welch | Times
    The ongoing project along Gandy Boulevard began in February but still has a lot of work left before its projected fall 2020 completion date.
  8. Dade City wants to put its planned bicycle hub in a city park near Church and Eighth streets adjoining the trailhead of the Roy Hardy Trail. The land already has been designated as the future home of a splash pad. Dade City
    A planned welcome center for cycling enthusiasts originally had been slated for a historic train depot
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. Nov. 14• Associated Press
    A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in Thursday afternoon at the station in Fort Lauderdale. [Emily Michot/Miami Herald]
    Brightline trains have killed more than a dozen people since 2017.