Walkers along State Road A1A keep 6 feet away in front of Highland Beach Town Hall on April 10. Law enforcement advises against stepping into the roadway to provide appropriate social distancing. 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 people than you normally might were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.
You likely will also 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 department are seeing a huge increase in the number of pedestrians on the sidewalk along A1A, in part because more people are working from home and because gyms, beaches and other popular exercise areas are closed.
That’s 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.
It can be accomplished however, Hutchins says, with common sense and common courtesy — and without having to step on the shoulder of the road.
Hutchins says people can step into a driveway or step on 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 walkway.
“We’re asking people [in Ocean Ridge] to wear a face covering so they don’t have to walk in the roadway,” he said.
In fact, he says, state law requires pedestrians to walk on a sidewalk if there is one 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 also a new Highland Beach town commissioner, said that pedestrians walking on road shoulders, which have essentially become bicycle lanes, can become a hazard for those 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 everyone can be safer if they follow two simple instructions.
“Use common sense, and follow the state statutes,” he said.