By Ron Hayes
For two days in May, the Florida Department of Transportation monitored both pedestrians and drivers at six crosswalks along State Road A1A here.
And they found accidents waiting to happen.
Apparently, pedestrians have forgotten their parents’ warnings, and drivers have forgotten just who has the right of way.
According to the weekend study, which was conducted on May 9 and 10, at the three crosswalks immediately north and three south of Atlantic Avenue:
• Only 23 percent of pedestrians used the crosswalks correctly, pressing the yellow blinking light then waiting for cars to stop before crossing.
• Another 69 percent didn't press the light at all, and 8 percent used the light but crossed without looking first for traffic.
• And while 71 percent of drivers dutifully stopped for pedestrians at a blinking yellow light, the other 29 percent drove right through it.
“Whatever happened to what your parents taught you?” wonders John Overton, the department’s assistant district traffic engineer. “Look left, right, then left again. And when you have drivers ignoring anyone in a crosswalk, that’s a dangerous situation.”
To address those dangers, the study recommends installing paddle-shaped warning signs on the road’s centerline, between 20 and 50 feet before each crosswalk. The signs, which have been used successfully in other areas, are marked STATE LAW: STOP TO PEDESTRIAN WITHIN CROSSWALK.
Overton said he will install the signs at the first crosswalks north and south of Atlantic Avenue as soon as a supplemental contract is completed and a contractor found.
“My plan is to evaluate them the following weekend,” Overton said, “and compare the numbers before and after. The interesting thing about these signs is that they let the drivers know the law when they need to know it, at the point where they need to know it.”
The study also recommends that the pedestrian-activated yellow blinkers be equipped with illuminated push buttons that indicate the light is blinking, as well as a system that beeps or in some other way tells the pedestrian that the flashing light is on.
This may take longer, Overton said, because the county, which operates the traffic light system, must find a compatible device. He’d like to see one installed at the crosswalk south of Atlantic Avenue, Overton said.
“My personal opinion is that some people don’t think the buttons work, so why use them anyway,” he added. “They’re thinking, ‘I’m old enough to look out for myself.’ ”
The study was welcomed by Jim Smith, the chairman and co-founder of SAFE (Safety As Floridians Expect), a citizens group that lobbies for traffic improvements along the ocean highway.
“I’m very pleased that they conducted the study,” Smith said. “Those in-street signs will make a big difference. I just hope it’s a big enough difference.”