Road crossings take a deadly turn

State tops fatality list; some blame distractions for drivers and pedestrians Pedestrian fatalities The Tampa Bay area, like many others in Florida, has a high concentration of pedestrian accidents. In just three counties. 78 people died last year when they were struck by a vehicle. Many of the locations in Pasco. Pinellas and Hillsborough are particularly and repeated^ dangerous – roads such as Fletcher and Fowler avenues. Gulf-to- Bay Boulevard. Fourth Street and U.S. 19. This map shows where the highest clusters of pedestrian accidents occur. BY ROB SHAW The Tampa Tribune tamm — Some people call it a suicide mission. They dash and dart across multiple lanes of traffic, cars whizzing by at high speeds. Many times, they make it. Often, they don’t. The numbers are disturbing. Last year, 41 pedestrians died in Mills- borough County; 25 were killed in Pinel­las County. In Pasco, die number was 12. Statewide in 2009, 482 pedestrians were killed, making the state No. 1 per capita in the country for such deaths. Preliminary reports for 2010 show the total was 492. Whether it’s Fletcher and Fowler ave­nues in Tampa, Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater or U.S. 19 in Pasco County, the roadways with the most pedestrian accidents, the story is the same.Pedestrians try to cross where they shouldn’t. Cars don’t stop when they should. People on both sides of the problem are eating, texting, looking down, doing many tilings other than being aware of the danger.Maps show the locations of pedestrian accidents over the years. There are clusters across the Bay area. And law enforcement and’transportation officials are working to save lives and reduce the numbers. Jeanette Rouse, the commu­nity traffic safety manager for the local state Department of Transportation office, ticks off a number of reasons the Bay area sees such high numbers of pe­destrian fatalities. Drivers are more aggressive. Roads are wider, cars are faster. There is inattention to the road by pedestrians and drivers. “It’s just bad behavior on both parts,” Rouse said. She has seen drivers in other states anticipate that a pedestri­an will cross — even in the middle of the block — and stop the car. Not so much in Florida. “We don’t have that mind-set here,” she said. “It takes a lot to get their attention to make them stop.” The state is trying several strategies to reduce the death rate. It has put up fences in prob­lem areas to force pedestrians to cross at stoplights. It has paid for advertising in restaurant rest- rooms to emphasize safe walk­ing. It has instituted a flag sys­tem that urges pedestrians” to grab flags and wave them as they walk across busy Gulf Boulevard along the Pinellas County beaches. “If it’s a car versus a pedestri­an, the pedestrian always loses,” Rouse said. Rick Clarke, the field supervi­sor for the DOT in Pasco, Her­nando and Citrus counties, can’t get the evening of March 1 out of his mind. As he was making a U-turn, he saw a woman trying to cross U.S. 19 from west to east in Pasco County. She made it across one lane, then another, but stepped into the middle southbotuid lane and was struck by a pickup. “In 36 years, I have* seen a lot of bad tilings, but it’s always been the aftermath,” Clarke said. “I’ve not actually witnessed the happening of it.”* He saw the woman, who was walking with another person, fly through the air. He called 911 as screaming and panicked rela­tives arrived and someone tried to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She died at a hos­pital. “I think about it a lot” Clarke said. “It bothers me.” He feels for the families in­volved. And diere is more than one victim, he said. “This man after he struck die lady, I thought he was going to have a heart attack,” Clarke said. “He was just an innocent person heading home.” For someone who spends 10 hours a day, four days a week driving die three-county area, Clarke has seen it all. Drivers talking on die phone, texting, emailing. Others behind the wheel putting on makeup, shav­ing, drinking, eating. “People are doing everydiing but driving,” he said. “I don’t know where people’s minds are. It’s incredible how Uiey are not paying attention.” The same, he said, goes for pedestrians. He saw five people just in one brief time along U.S. 19 walking with traffic, not against it as they should. “/Ml it takes is for somebody to go by and sneeze and turn die wheel and somebody is going to get hurt” Clarke said. V V It’s 8 o’dock on Friday morn­ing on Twiggs Street in down­town Tampa, and die crosswalk is a busy place. People are rushing in their cars to get to the office. Workers in the sprawling courUiouse complex, in addition to those appearing at proceedings, have somewhere to be. Dee Walsh takes a step off die curb in an attempt to head across the four lanes of die crosswalk, but quickly steps back onto the sidewalk. Tne blinking light and bright yellow signs, along with her presence, aren’t enough to stop the driv­ers. “I’m terrified,” said Walsh, who works at the courdiouse. “You think people are going to stop and diey don’t. I’ve seen a lawyer get hit. That can happen anytime.” On this day, Tampa police officers are out in force to ticket dr ivers who don’t yield to pedes­trians in the crosswalk. Money for the off-duty detail comes from a federal grant designed to provide safer streets. “Thanks, guys,” one worker says as she navigates her way across die street, having to wait as a Toyota Corolla zips through die crosswalk. “I risk life and limb crossing this street everv dav. twice a day,” another worker says. It’s no exaggeration. Carl Giguere, a Tampa police sergeant who is die leader of the unit, said cars don’t have to barrel along at 40 to 50 mph to inflict serious injuries. A vehicle moving iust 10 moh can break bones, he said. A car going 18 to 20 mph can ampu­tate limbs. “It’s just devastating when you have an object that weighs 3,000 or 4,000 pounds,” Giguere said. “There is so much kinetic energy being delivered into that body. “It’s just horrendous.” Pedestrian accidents are fre­quent on Hillsborough Avenue. And Nebraska Avenue. Giguere recalls an accident last year on Bay-to-Bay Boulevard in which two elderly people were hit by a car. One of them later died. He also remembers die lawyer hit outside the courthouse, where he and fellow officers recently stopped nine drivers in 22 minutes. There were 15 in 45 minutes, and 19 in an hour. Police issued 85 citations to driv­ers and handed out 59 warnings to pedestrians in about seven hours. A judge was almost run over, too. “I think die majority is diat people aren’t used to yielding to pedestrians,” Giguere said. “Most pedestrians, when they start walking in a crosswalk, will stop for a car. What happens is diere is confusion on one or two parts.” There should be no confu­sion. If you’re a pedestrian crossing a street with a “walk” light or a green light, you have die right of way, even with cars turning right or left across vour path. They must yield to you. Laura Ray was lucky. A University of South Florida student, she was hit by a car in October 2010 while trying to cross 50Ui Street, headed to the nearby Catholic Youth Center. The then 21-year-old suffered a broken left arm and some bruises to her face, said her father. Earl Ray. “She is very, very lucky,” the fadier said. “Somebody needs to do somediing. How many peo pie arc going to get hurt or killed before somebody does some thing?” Ray said diere is a lack of crosswalks, lights and other safety features along that stretch of 50th Street near Fowler Ave nue. He said the same is true along U.S. 19 where he lives in Palm Harbor, in car-clogged northern Pinellas Comity. “It’s suicide crossing 19,” he said. “The drivers don’t slow down They don’t look when they turn,” Ray said. “Everybody crosses when they can. The lights are too far apart.” Linda Benware says she cant be too careful when she tries to cross four-lane Gulf Boulevard in Nordi Redington Beach, even in marked crosswalks. So she grabs a yellow flag before she heads from one side of the street to the other. The flags are part of a Walkwise program designed to make pe destrians more visible in several miles of Gulf Boulevard along the beaches in Pinellas County. “I don’t care if people think I’m 95,” she said on a recent morning as she waited for traffic to stop before venturing into the street. “I’m very cautious when cross. I don’t want to get hurt.” There are crosswalks along die beaches where pedestrians can push a button and activate lights. There are scores of signs along the roadway. “We can do all this stuff, but il they would just use common sense,” said Bill Queen, mayor of North Redington Beach. “I’m a fan of anything that brings at tention to the problem and makes die pedestrian think about what they are doing.” He has seen people talking on their cellphones as they navigate their way across the” road. Or texting. Or taking a bite out of a sandwich. “Everything but what they should be doing,” Queen said. “Which is looking up and down the road.” One of die biggest problems, the mayor and Benware agree, is that on” multiple-lane roads, not every lane of traffic might stop. “One lane will stop,” Queen said, “but you better be looking at that next lane.” The most important device aside from flags, lights, signs and crosswalks, die mayor said — is the pedestrian’s eyes. “If the pedestrian uses his eyes, they are not going to get hit,” he said. “I’ll never get hit out diere. I look.” rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999