By Rich Pollack
For years, Highland Beach has placed a priority on ensuring pedestrians remain safe as they cross State Road A1A, from the condominiums on the west side to the beach on the east side and back again.
In 2019, the town provided orange flags at crosswalks to improve pedestrian visibility, and late last year it installed pedestrian-activated flashing lights to let motorists know someone was entering or in the crosswalk.
However, all those efforts failed to prevent a nighttime accident last month that left a 57-year-old resident seriously injured after she was struck by a southbound car while returning from a beachfront outing with friends.
Now, the town and its police department are waging a renewed campaign to encourage residents and motorists to use extra caution when approaching one of the eight crosswalks in the 3.5 miles of A1A in Highland Beach.
“In general, people need to always be cautious when they cross the road,” Police Chief Craig Hartmann said. “Someone may not realize there’s a crosswalk there and they might not see you, especially at night.”
Hartmann said that the woman who was struck on Feb. 14 was one of several residents from the Boca Highland Beach Club and Marina community at the south end of town who were returning home at about 9 p.m.
Some in the group had already successfully crossed and a few other members were behind the injured woman when the accident occurred.
Hartmann and Town Manager Marshall Labadie said the group had activated the flashing crosswalk lights and they were working when the accident occurred.
“All our current technology was deployed,” Labadie said.
Hartmann said it appears that the driver, an 84-year-old woman from Boca Raton, did not see the flashing lights and did not stop after the accident.
Hartmann said the driver, who was later found, told investigators she was unaware she struck someone. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the accident.
The pedestrian who was struck remained in the hospital several weeks after the accident, suffering from head trauma and broken bones, Hartmann said.
He and Labadie are continuing to urge residents to double check and look both ways when crossing the road to be sure approaching vehicles are going to stop.
“You always want to be sure the driver sees you entering the highway,” Hartmann said.
The chief said that it had been several years since an accident involving a pedestrian occurred in a crosswalk, and the injuries in that case were minimal.
Since the installation of the pedestrian-activated crosswalk lights in the fall, Highland Beach police have been encouraging residents to activate the lights when they cross, even if no vehicles are approaching.
“We had a campaign to encourage people to push the button,” Hartmann said, adding that officers would stop and talk to pedestrians about the need to activate the lights. “We ask people to press the button but at the same time remind them that it shouldn’t give them a false sense of security.”
Police have also used a mobile billboard to remind motorists of the law requiring them to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
“We have motorists from out of state and even out of the country who may not know the law,” he said.
Although both Hartmann and Labadie say the crosswalk was fairly well lighted, the town hopes to receive $60,000 from the state to add lights to all of the pedestrian-activated flashing signals that would come on when the button is pushed and shine bright lights on the crosswalk.
That allocation request is working its way through the state legislature.