Five-year trend shows increases in crashes and fatalities around Pinellas

According to the draft 2019 trends and conditions report presented to the Forward Pinellas Board on Nov. 13, 29,656 motor vehicle crashes were reported in Pinellas during 2018, resulting in 119 fatalities and 4,229 injuries. The trend is a 7% increase in fatalities when compared to the five-year average for 2013-2017 to the five-year average for 2014-2018.

CLEARWATER — Motor vehicle crashes are continuing to rise, as are fatalities, according to the draft 2019 trends and conditions report presented to the Forward Pinellas Board on Nov. 13.

The report, presented by Robert Feigel, programmer planner, provides a snapshot of trends related to transportation and land development, including safety, accessibility, mobility and availability of facilities.

According to the report, 29,656 motor vehicle crashes were reported in Pinellas during 2018, resulting in 119 fatalities and 4,229 injuries. The trend is a 7% increase in fatalities when compared to the five-year average for 2013-2017 to the five-year average for 2014-2018.

Total crashes trended up 4%, but the number of injuries went down by 1%.

The number of pedestrian crashes trended up by only 0.4%, but pedestrian fatalities increased by 5%. Bicycle crashes increased by 7% and bicycle fatalities went up by 9%. Motorcycle crashes went down by 1%, but fatalities were up 7%.

Sixty-one percent of all traffic fatalities involved vulnerable users, which are pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. More than one out of three fatal crashes involved pedestrians.

Teen drivers, ages 15-19, accounted for 10% of all crashes and, on average, resulted in seven fatalities. Teen injury crashes were up 6%.

Drivers, ages 65 and older, were involved in 28% of fatal crashes and 29% of all crashes, which is an increase of 5%.

Fatal crashes involving impaired driving increased by 10%; however, the total number of crashes with impaired drivers decreased by 1%. Injury crashes with impaired drivers were up 4%.

Aggressive driving continues to be a problem. Nearly one-third, 32%, of traffic fatalities involved aggressive driving, which is up 2% from last year. An average of 36 deaths a year is attributed to aggressive driving. The intersection with the most crashes involving aggressive drivers is U.S. 19 and Curlew Road in Dunedin.

Innovations in technology are available to help prevent distracted driving, but motorists have not yet adopted their use, Feigel said. Crashes attributed to distracted driving were up 10%, according to the report. Distractions include cell phones, navigation devices and general inattentiveness. In 2018, more than 11% of all crashes involved distracted driving and 6% of fatal crashes.

Transportation trends

The report also provided a summary of the county’s transportation system, which includes 46 centerline miles of strategic intermodal system of corridors, 589 centerline miles of monitored roadways, 60 miles of existing Pinellas Trail loop, 76 miles of existing community trails, 53 local/regional bus routes, three airports and three ferry routes.

Centerline miles represent the length of a road from its starting point to its end.

Feigel said data about density and transit and other factors is used to affect local decisions.

For example, the report shows that about 14% of county households live in areas with residential densities sufficient to support frequent bus service, an increase from 13% in 2015. The report pointed out that the areas would need “appropriate urban design” to support transit.

The report also showed that most residents’ travel time is spent commuting to work. About 52% travel less than 10 miles to work, 26% travel 10-24 miles and 6% travel 25-50 miles. The majority, 79% drive alone, 8% carpool, 2% use transit (bus), 2% walk, 1% bicycle and 2% use other means. About 6% work from home.

Ninety-six percent of jobs are within 1/2 mile of a bus stop. According to the report, increasing the frequency of bus service along routes serving large numbers of housing and jobs could make transit a more viable option for commuters.

According to information from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2017, about 64% of the county’s population works in Pinellas. Another 19% work in one of the three adjacent counties, Pasco, Hillsborough or Manatee. Another 17% travel to more distant locations.

Most intercounty commuting occurs between Pinellas and Hillsborough with more Pinellas residents traveling to Hillsborough than Hillsborough residents traveling to Pinellas. More residents of Pasco and Manatee counties travel to Pinellas for work compared to Pinellas residents traveling to either of those counties.

Tourism is an important county industry. In 2018, about 6.6 million visitors stayed overnight, which is about 4 percent more than in 2016. The resulting increase in vehicles adds to demands on the roadway network, especially during peak times, such as Easter and spring break.

Traffic congestion on roadways between the mainland and barrier islands increases dramatically during peak times. However, increases in tourists are not necessarily a bad thing, as they pay gas and sales taxes that help fund for transportation projects.

Mobility information also is included in the report, including data about transit, pedestrians and bicyclists. Expanding those modes of travel can be used to decrease traffic congestion, Feigel said.

Walking and riding are generally recognized as good alternatives to private vehicle travel. According to the report, 32% of households live within 1/2 miles of a pedestrian/bicycle trail. Nearly one in five residents lives within 1/2 mile of the Pinellas Trail Loop. About 43 trail miles have been added to the Pinellas Trail since 2013, and it is now about 79% complete.

Waterborne transportation is a recent trend that helps with traffic congestion. Cross-Bay Ferry, which is publicly funded, offers seasonal service between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa. It carried more than 53,000 passengers in 2018.

Clearwater Ferry, which is privately funded, operates three routes connecting Clearwater Beach with downtown Clearwater and the city of Dunedin. Another privately operated service, Tampa Bay Ferry & Water Taxi, provides trips from Fort De Soto to Egmont and Shell Keys.

Board members discussed concerns about the increase in vehicle crashes and fatalities, especially for vulnerable users such as pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she knows Forward Pinellas includes safety in its planning activities, but suggested getting local law enforcement involved as well.

She attributes some of the increase in traffic to more people on the road, including tourists that “don’t know where they’re going.”

Board Chair Dave Eggers said Forward Pinellas would be upping it efforts to try to improve conditions on dangerous roads, such as Drew Street and McMullen Booth Road with its influx of commuters from Pasco County.

Bujalski pointed out that the information provided in the report is not only what occurs at the county level. She would like data on the municipal level so cities can address the issues.

She doesn’t want to be limited to telling residents of Dunedin that vehicle fatalities are up 7% countywide.

“I want information at the local level,” she said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.