Along the Coast: A good rule of foot -- Step aside but not onto road shoulder

Pedestrians in Highland Beach demonstrate good personal protection and social distancing. Although the man on the right can see oncoming traffic and gives the couple on the left plenty of room, police say it’s safer for walkers to stay off road shoulders or bike lanes. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Rich Pollack

Drive along State Road A1A in southern Palm Beach County and you’ll likely see quite a few more pedestrians than you normally might were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.


You likely also will see people practicing social distancing by walking along the shoulder of the road, between the white line and the swale.


That, say some in law enforcement, is a bad idea — and in some places it’s also against the law.


“Please don’t walk in the roadway because we don’t want you to get hit by a car,” said Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins. “If a sidewalk is provided, stay on the sidewalk.”


Hutchins said he and his officers saw a huge increase in the number of pedestrians on the sidewalk along A1A during the shutdown, in part because more people worked from home and because gyms, beaches and other exercise areas were closed.


That was also the case in most other coastal communities with walkways, including Highland Beach.


With so many people outside, it can be difficult to keep the recommended 6-foot separation.


But Hutchins says people can do it with common sense and common courtesy — and without having to step on the shoulder of the road.


He says people can step into a driveway or onto the grass if they see pedestrians approaching and want to keep 6 feet away.
“You should step aside if you have the ability to do so,” he said.


He also recommends wearing a mask if you’re walking along a heavily used path.


“We’re asking people to wear a face covering so they don’t have to walk in the roadway,” he said of Ocean Ridge.


In fact, he said, state law requires pedestrians to walk on a sidewalk if one is available.


While the goal is to ensure the safety of pedestrians, keeping walkers off the road also can help with the safety of bicyclists.


Bicyclist John Shoemaker, who is a Highland Beach town commissioner, said that when pedestrians walk on shoulders, which essentially serve as bike lanes, they pose a hazard for people on bikes.


“If pedestrians spill into the bike lane, then bicyclists have to go out into the roadway,” he said.


For his part, Hutchins believes people can be safer if they follow two simple instructions.


“Use common sense, and follow the state statutes,” he said.

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