BELLEAIR BEACH – Florida has more pedestrian fatalities than any state in the country, and bicycles fare little better. That deadly statistic points to an urgent need for education on pedestrian safety, said Lisa Suprenand, outreach specialist for Walk Wise Tampa Bay.
The University of South Florida initiative provides safety tips and information to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers in Pinellas County.
Suprenand spoke at the March 4 Belleair Beach City Council meeting. Her presentation showed pedestrian fatalities have remained relatively constant in Florida over the past 10 years, ranging around 500 a year. The loss from pedestrian injuries and fatalities is devastating, she said, but many could be prevented through appropriate safety measures.
The program’s safety tips for pedestrians each begin with the letters from WALK WISE.
W – Wear bright colors or reflective clothing.
A – Always be alert.
L – Look left, right, and left again.
K – Know your surroundings.
W – Watch for cars in parking lots.
I – Impaired walking can be dangerous.
S – Stay on sidewalks.
E – Expect the unexpected.
Right hand turn situations are one of the biggest issues regarding pedestrian injuries and fatalities, Suprenand said. Pedestrians have the right of way, but motorists do not always yield. Pedestrians need to be especially vigilant when crossing at intersections where motorists are making right turns.
Crossing flags and signalized (blinking lights) crossing devices are about equally effective in preventing pedestrian
mishaps, Suprenand said. When using the road shoulder, pedestrians should walk against the traffic while bicyclists should travel with the traffic, she said. About a third of the pedestrian fatalities involve walkers who have been drinking.
Bicycles are allowed on sidewalks in Pinellas County unless specifically prohibited, Suprenand said. Bicyclists are required to yield to pedestrians and give an audible warning when passing. The city of Dunedin does not allow bikes on its sidewalks.
Suprenand said following the meeting that bicyclists are required to ride within the bike lane when provided, and pedestrians must use sidewalks when available.
Drivers can help reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities by being alert, anticipating the unexpected, and never blocking crosswalks, for which they can get tickets.
Suprenand and other Walk Wise Ambassadors have given more than 800 educational presentations to more than 10,000 people in the county. The Florida Department of Transportation funds the program.
“We want to increase awareness of the safety tips and reduce pedestrian casualties,” Suprenand said.
City gets highest financial rating
The city got a “very good report” on its financial status from Jeanine Bittinger, CPA, partner in audit firm Davidson, Jamieson, and Cristini, P.L. of Dunedin. In reporting her audit of financial activities for the past fiscal year, Bittinger said Belleair Beach had earned an “unqualified” rating, the highest possible.
Bittinger said the city had favorable balances of both revenues and expenses for the year. The ending fund balance was over $4.4 million.
“You ended up in the black, and had a good year,” she said. “You did a good job of budgeting and adhering to the budget.”
Outgoing mayor praised
Mayor Kathy Mortensen will be giving up her job next month, following seven years on council and the last two as mayor. Mortensen’s colleagues on council had good words to say about her leadership of the city.
Council Member John Pietrowski said, “It was an honor and privilege serving with you as mayor. You realize compromise is the way to get things done. I enjoyed your leadership.”
“Thank you for your leadership. You will be missed,” said Council Member Jeril Cohen.
Vice Mayor David Dumville said serving with Mortensen had been “an absolute delight.” “You demand so much,” he said, “but you helped me live out a dream.”
Mortensen’s highest praise came from City Attorney Paul Marino. He said, “In my 47 years in government, I have never had a more professional relationship with anyone than with you at the helm.”
“Belleair Beach is among the best run, if not the best run city in all of Pinellas County,” Marino added.