REDINGTON BEACH – North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen urged members of the Barrier Island Governmental Council to take additional steps toward educating pedestrians on safety.
Queen’s comments came March 26 following the deaths of two pedestrians along the beaches. One died March 22 in St. Pete Beach and another March 23 in North Redington Beach. There was also a third pedestrian fatality in Redington Beach within the last two months, Queen said.
In all cases, the pedestrians were hit by motorists while trying to cross Gulf Boulevard. In the North Redington Beach case, a 30-year-old victim was crossing at a flashing crosswalk that was not heeded by a 69-year-old St. Petersburg motorist.
Queen said he would like to see a commitment by the BIG-C to further educate pedestrians in safe ways to cross Gulf Boulevard.
“We need to tell pedestrians how to cross the roads,” Queen said. “We need to tell them what to do. Basically, it’s two things – push the button (to start the flashing beacons) and look for the cars. You can’t make it any simpler than that.”
Queen said beach communities have been working with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for more special enforcement details and doing more learning programs.
“We’ve worked with the chamber of commerce and AAA,” Queen said. “We’re trying to change the culture of the drivers and the pedestrians. We need to make WalkWise a reality and not walk stupid.”
Queen said the Indiana man who died following the North Redington Beach accident would probably be still alive if he had checked for cars coming along Gulf Boulevard.
“You’ve got to look at the cars,” Queen said. “Everybody speeds, they run red lights and they’re going to run a caution light. So you’ve got to watch what’s going on. If we can just get people to open their eyes and we continue this education program and enforcement consistently, it will all work out for us.”
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said his city has experienced similar frustrations on the roundabout at Clearwater Beach. Pedestrians haphazardly cross in non-crosswalk areas, he said.
“No matter how hard you try, some people think they’re more important than anybody else,” said Cretekos. “Clearwater has red lights in its roundabout on Clearwater Beach to stop the traffic. People will cross (against) a red light because they’re a pedestrian. And the cars have to stop and that causes a backup. I don’t know if we’re ever going to solve stupidity.”
St. Pete Beach City Commissioner Jim Parent suggested a campaign to raise awareness with signs at crosswalks.
“It might be brash but maybe something like the signs you see at industrial sites,” he said. “Something like ‘700 days since our last accident’ except we’ll list how long since our last fatality.”
“I don’t think pedestrians take (crossing Gulf Boulevard) seriously,” he added. “I don’t think they realize there’s a danger. I think they’re aware the beach is over there or a 7-Eleven is over here. But I don’t think they understand Gulf Boulevard is a real live danger.”
Parent said he’s heard that vacationers are just not tuned in mentally.
“People tell me that when (tourists) pack for vacation, they don’t pack their brains,” he said. “That’s because people act differently when they’re on vacation than they do in their work or in their homes.”
Treasure Island City Commissioner Phil Collins suggested putting a message on the inside back of hotel doors.
“When they shut the door,” Collins said, “they’ll see the checkout time and they’ll also see a safety message. It might make them more aware. A lot of our visitors are from outside the country and they’re just not aware.”
In other action:
• Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is planning a meeting with beach leaders to further discuss his proposed re-entry plan for the beaches. The plan would come into play following a hurricane and is necessary, he said, for a unified effort across all the barrier islands. The meeting is planned for April at a date and time to be determined by Gualtieri. He said the program would most likely not be in place for the 2014 hurricane season and would be launched next year.
• Sarah Ward, staff director of the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the new board for the merged MPO and Pinellas Planning Council would be seated at the group’s May 14 meeting. The beaches have one seat on the board, which will be selected by the BIG-C at its April 30 meeting. Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy and St. Pete Beach Mayor Maria Lowe are candidates.
• Pinellas County Coastal Manager Andy Squires said the Treasure Island-Long Key beach nourishment project has been delayed due to weather conditions in the northeast that will prevent deployment of the dredges. The new schedule is: Sunshine Beach, starting July 19 through the end of July; Sunset Beach, end of July to the middle of August; Upham Beach, Aug. 21-31; and Pass-A-Grille, Sept. 5-15.
• BIG-C board members decided to use a fish logo on its website, which is being redesigned by Digital Eel of St. Pete Beach. “With that piece of information, they can conceptualize the branding for the website,” Parent said.