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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016 5 years ago

WalkWise program to teach crossroad rules

A new Walk Wise program to inform residents how to use new Gulf of Mexico Drive crosswalks will start soon as concerns about the crosswalks and the flashing lights linger.
by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Commissioner Lynn Larson and her Country Club Shores neighbors, Gerard Mos and Jackie Meckstroth, crossed Gulf of Mexico Drive, then walked back across five minutes later Jan. 15. Both times, they had to wait for approximately 10 cars to pass in either direction before motorists stopped and allowed them to safely cross, even though the lights were flashing.

“I’ve heard complaints from neighbors,” Larson said. “The last thing we need is someone getting killed after we’ve installed the crosswalks that are supposed to make it safer.”

Larson advocated for the crosswalk just north of Longboat Club Drive at the Country Club Shores beach access, one of four that the Florida Department of Transportation installed on Gulf of Mexico Drive late last year. But she and other commissioners are not done advocating to improve the crosswalks.

This month, she and Mayor Jack Duncan pleaded with FDOT for help informing residents and motorists that the crosswalks are there to keep people safe. And last week, the town announced that those meetings can now be scheduled Key-wide through an educational forum known as WalkWise that is funded by FDOT (see sidebar).

In December, FDOT officials informed Town Manager Dave Bullock that they would conduct the outreach-education effort after Bullock forwarded them several emails with concerns.

The WalkWise program is geared toward communities experiencing changes in their pedestrian or bicycle transportation systems.

“It’s remarkable the amount of times people cross in the crosswalks without pushing the button,” Bullock said.

Currently, the crosswalks have white flashing lights above the pedestrian signs that blink on and off when activated by a pedestrian who wants to cross.

Larson wants FDOT to consider replacing the white lights with brighter, red flashing lights.

“It’s not visible enough, and it’s confusing,” Larson said.

FDOT Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Specialist David Jones responded to Larson’s request in a Jan. 8 email, explaining that certain criteria need to be met to replace the white lights with red lights. Specifically, a pedestrian count needs to show sufficienttraffic to receive red lights, and not enough pedestrians use any of the crosswalks to qualify.

Jones, though, said FDOT will perform a pedestrian count at all crosswalks in March to determine whether the crossings could qualify for red lights in the future.

Police will also frequently be near the crosswalks this season to make them more visible.

“The presence of law enforcement encourages the correct behavior from motorists and pedestrians alike,” Jones said.

Key resident George Spoll is pleased to hear about the WalkWise program.

“People barrel through those crosswalks at almost full speed with the lights blaring,” Spoll said. “It’s not enough to educate us. The lights are inadequate and need addressed, and the strangers that drive the Key need to know they must stop.”

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