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Safety upgrades planned for Gulf Boulevard
Editor’s note: This is the final part of a series of stories titled “Watch Your Step” on pedestrian safety issues in Pinellas County.
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Photo by BOB McCLURE
Former Redington Beach City Clerk Janina Patrus stands next to a crosswalk at Gulf Boulevard and 161st Avenue, which will remain as it currently is.
Beach residents and visitors alike will see significant safety upgrades for pedestrians along Gulf Boulevard in the next two years.

Recognizing the danger pedestrians face in numerous areas along the beach corridor, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to expand the number of pedestrian crosswalks using new technology it hopes will warn motorists better when pedestrians are attempting to cross the roadway.

Plans call for additional crosswalks, elevated “bull” islands in the center of Gulf Boulevard, re-engineered turn lanes and eventually, the installation of rectangular rapid flashing beacons to better warn motorists that pedestrians are attempting to cross the roadway.

RRFBs are pedestrian-actuated amber horizontal LED lights that are used in conjunction with warning signs at mid-block crosswalks. They use an irregular flash pattern similar to emergency flashers on police and sheriff’s cars. Making them more attractive is the fact they can be installed on either two-lane or multi-lane streets.

David Skrelunas, district safety programs manager for FDOT, said the cost for RRFD is between $5,000 and $7,000 per location. For that reason, he said FDOT would install the technology along Gulf Boulevard as funds become available.

“We’ll do it on a case by case basis,” Skrelunas said. “You have a situation along Gulf Boulevard of different roadway segments. In some locations it’s two lanes and then down in St. Pete Beach you have five lanes. So we’re trying to put in pedestrian islands in those locations to protect the pedestrians so they don’t get mowed over.”

FDOT is partnering with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to finance the project.

“We’ve tried to set aside $1 million,” said Skrelunas. “Hopefully, we’ll do them all. But if not, we’ll do it in stages. We should be starting in 2013.”

While FDOT had the best intentions, its initial plans met with some concern from communities along the beaches.

Redington Beach led the charge after state officials proposed the installation of seven crosswalks with six medians, or “bull” islands. Town officials said many of the medians would force motorists to make dangerous U-turns to reach residences and businesses along the boulevard.

Also, since Redington Beach is primarily a residential community with few hotels, town officials believed the need for an excessive number of crosswalks/medians was unnecessary.

FDOT initially proposed crosswalks at 157th, 158th, 160th, 161st, 162nd, 163rd and 164th avenues. The major concern was over a proposed median at 164th that would require a left turn that Mayor Nick Simons said would have been dangerous.

“It was our decision to let (FDOT) know what we don’t want,” said Simons.

In a Sept. 4 letter to Gary Thompson, director of district traffic operations for FDOT, the town explained that the Town Commission voted to eliminate the proposed crosswalks at 157th, 160th, 162nd and 164th avenues.

“By and large, FDOT listened, went back and redesigned the crosswalks,” said Simons.

Redington Beach will keep crosswalks and medians at 158th and 163rd avenues. There also will be a crosswalk at the traffic light at 161st Avenue.

If ever the need for better pedestrian safety, it became glaringly apparent in North Redington Beach in 2005 when an elderly couple was hit by a car and killed at Gulf Boulevard and 171st Avenue. Since then the town has implemented aggressive safety measures that include five crosswalks and education programs for pedestrians and motorists.

“My concerns have always been pedestrian complacency and drivers’ inattention,” said North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen. “Crosswalks are only tools that when used properly will help pedestrians safely across the intersection. Education and enforcement of pedestrians and drivers will only enhance the effectiveness of these programs.”

The key, Queen said, for pedestrians is a consistent approach along Gulf Boulevard so that drivers see the same warning signs or beacons in each town. FDOT is attempting to meet that goal by upgrading crosswalks and using the RRFB technology.

“During our many conversations at the BIG-C regarding pedestrian safety, the core theme has always been a consistent approach throughout all the beach communities,” Queen said. “Confusing drivers and pedestrians with different applications in each town or city would only add to the problem. We have been very fortunate that everyone agrees that consistency is safer and the more logical approach.”

In Madeira Beach, FDOT has two projects in the works.

According to Kelli Bradley, a project manager with FDOT, the first project will get under way in March for upgraded crosswalks and raised medians at 129th, 130th and 155th avenues, along with a left-turn lane from Gulf Boulevard northbound into Archibald Park at Madeira Way.

The second project is targeted for 2014, It will include resurfacing of Gulf Boulevard from John’s Pass north to 150th Avenue. It also includes the installation of raised medians between 131st and 132nd avenues, along with others at 133rd Avenue and about 20 to 30 feet south of Boca Ciega Avenue.

Other medians are planned at 137th Avenue in front of Madeira Sands, another in front of Tom and Kitty Stuart Park a half-block south of 141st Avenue, 142nd Avenue, between 144th and 145th avenues in front of the public beach parking lot and another leading up to the Tom Stuart Causeway.

“The first project was supposed to start the end of January 2013,” Bradley said in an email. “However, there are some contract issues that still need to be resolved. We believe construction for this project will begin in March 2013 unless unforeseen issues come up.”

Treasure Island, using its own funds with state and federal money, has installed six pedestrian-activated crosswalks on Gulf Boulevard, said City Manager Reid Silverboard. In addition to the new traffic light at 104th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, FDOT plans safety upgrades to crossings at 104th, 107th and 108th avenues, Silverboard said.

“We agree that additional pedestrian safety improvements are needed on Gulf Boulevard, particularly where there are hotels and motels, to help visitors safely across Gulf Boulevard,” Silverboard said in an email. “We agree that signalization, signage and pavement marking needs to be standardized all along Gulf Boulevard so that pedestrians and drivers are getting a constant visual message.”

To the north, Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence said he has two major areas of concern for pedestrian safety.

“The first is that many visitors, because of their home area emphasis on pedestrian right-of-way (particularly Canadian and European visitors), tend to assume vehicles will stop and all too often that’s not the case, even at our well-marked pedestrian crosswalks,” Lawrence said. “My second major concern is vehicles passing on the right, even when the vehicle in front of them has stopped to observe the occupied pedestrian crossing. I see this all too often.”

Lawrence said the FDOT’s flag program at crossings was a good idea to make pedestrians more visible to motorists but believes grant money made available for pedestrian crossing education allowed the police department to put additional officers on the street to speak to pedestrians about safe crossing concerns.

Lawrence said he favors the new RRFB technology.

“These new strobe lights at pedestrian crossings, which will be funded by federal dollars and should appear on Gulf Boulevard in about two years, should enhance pedestrian safety,” Lawrence said.

Cities and towns would fund maintenance of the RRFBs after they’re up and running.

Further north in Indian Rocks Beach, Mayor R.B. Johnson believes FDOT Transportation is trying to have consistency with its flashing pedestrian flashing signs at crosswalks and that they will be installed in Indian Rocks Beach at some point.

“There isn’t any particular opposition as far as I know to those in Indian Rocks. I have seen those rapid flashing beacons down in St. Petersburg, and I think they are very effective,” he said. “So if we are going to have any warning signs at all for pedestrians those are the ones I prefer to have.”

Commenting on other pedestrian safety issues, Johnson said the city has had plans for several years to install about seven or eight more crosswalks along Gulf Boulevard from 7th Avenue north.

City drainage work had to be completed before the county could do paving work on Gulf Boulevard.

Johnson also said the city is planning to improve the intersection of Walsingham Road and Gulf Boulevard to make it more pedestrian friendly.

“It’s kind of a mess because we have these raised islands sort of in the middle of that intersection. You have to go to one and then to another,” he said. “It’s just awkward for the pedestrian; it’s awkward for the driver.”

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