MADEIRA BEACH – Popular misconceptions concerning driver and pedestrian responsibilities when approaching crosswalks have resulted in near misses, injuries and even fatalities. Educating the public on the law is a key to promoting crosswalk safety, said Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy John Luckett.
Speaking at a May 27 City Commission workshop, Luckett said people attempting to cross busy roadways like Gulf Boulevard need to keep in mind that “no matter who is at fault in a collision with a vehicle, the pedestrian is going to lose.”
The common belief that a pedestrian has the right to step into the road at a crosswalk is simply wrong, Luckett said. The pedestrian has the right of way only when a vehicle has slowed down and has yielded to them, or is far enough away that they can safely enter the crosswalk, allowing the vehicle plenty of room to stop.
Luckett said people crossing “need to wait and they have to be careful. Because, while the majority of drivers are paying attention, there are a lot of distracted drivers out there.”
When a person is in the crosswalk, drivers have the responsibility to stop and remain stopped. They cannot proceed until the person is on the other side of the road, Luckett said.
A common misconception among drivers is that once a person has passed their vehicle, they can go. That is not correct, Luckett said. They have to wait until that person is in the opposing lanes of traffic.
However, Luckett advised pedestrians, “Whether you think you have the right of way, use common sense. You are not going to win against a car.”
It is also critical for drivers to pay attention to pedestrians, and look for people stepping off the curb.
“They need to be continually mindful of this,” Luckett stressed.
Drivers cannot pass other vehicles that are stopped for a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Luckett warned.
“If you zip around to beat a pedestrian, you are going to get a ticket,” he said.
Pedestrians who attempt to cross a busy road outside of the crosswalks are taking a big risk.
“That is extremely dangerous,” Luckett said. “The crosswalks are there for a reason.”
Crosswalks along Gulf Boulevard are being upgraded with strobe lights and new markings, which should help make crossing safer. But the main assurance of a safe passage lies with drivers and pedestrians who are alert and aware of the rules of the road and follow them, Luckett said.
To assure that happens, education and enforcement programs are being stepped up by the Sheriff’s Office, Luckett said. The department has obtained a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation that allows targeted enforcement several times a month, he said.
“We bring in two extra deputies for that,” Luckett said. First time violators are given a warning. But repeat and grossly negligent offenders receive a ticket, amounting to $166 for drivers and $62 for pedestrians.
Nuisance law to be toughened
The commission agreed to add new violator categories to the city’s ordinance which targets property owners and landlords of properties deemed to be “chronic nuisance” sites. The current law includes criminal behaviors ranging from loitering and prowling to disorderly conduct, domestic violence, prostitution and criminal gang activity.
A proposal made by Commissioner Elaine Poe adds stalking, felony, domestic related battery, abuse and neglect of the elderly, resisting arrest without violence, and violation of probation.
The current law also puts a property owner in violation if three or more violations by a tenant occur in a 30-day period. That will be lengthened to 45 days.
Poe said in a later comment that she is working to make Madeira Beach’s chronic nuisance property law “the toughest in the state, if not the nation.”
Firefighter pay increase OK’d
A 5 percent pay raise was approved for city firefighters, who are “rock bottom” on the salary scale of county fire departments, according to City Manager Shane Crawford. Crawford said the raises are “financially doable.”
Finance Director Vince Tenaglia said the increases were the result of negotiations. Firefighters had proposed pay package enhancements, which were “quite rich,” but were very agreeable to working with the city, he said. The pay increases will cost the city about $40,000 a year, Crawford said.
Three new “driver” positions also will be added to the current classifications of firefighter/EMT and lieutenant, offering additional opportunities for advancement within the department. Crawford said firefighters currently have to wait 20 years or more to get promoted to the lieutenant level.
Crawford said the pay and position improvements were overdue and badly needed. Two-thirds of the department has turned over just since he came to Madeira Beach in January 2012, he said. A major reason for the exodus is “paying a rock-bottom salary to beginning firefighters,” who soon leave for better opportunities elsewhere. “If we’re going to stay in the (fire department) business, there’s no way to be paying the absolute bottom salary,” he said.
The negotiations were reopened in the middle of a three-year contract, because of the severe turnover problem and related high overtime costs.
Other classifications of city employees have pay scales that are “rock bottom” as well, Crawford said. He told the commission to look for salary increase proposals for department level heads, administrative staff and sanitation department employees soon.