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Seeing the light

Authorities are giving pedestrians flashing lights to help stem the death toll. Ultimately, it's up to the pedestrians themselves.

By MATTHEW WAITE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002


It isn't easy for a driver going 50 mph to spot someone walking along U.S. 19 at night.

That's the big problem.

On a recent safety blitz, sheriff's deputies, city police and volunteers from the Community Traffic Safety Team were out along the road on a Friday night, looking for people walking.

They came bearing a gift: a small light, a little bigger than a silver dollar, that flashed.

James Kozlowski got one. The 40-year old homeless man is precisely the type of person who needs one. He was walking along U.S. 19, wearing dark clothes and was nearly invisible to a driver going 50 mph.

"I'm going to take my chances," he said. He put on his light -- which can actually be seen from about 100 yards down the road at night -- and headed north, toward his destination in Hernando County.

"Why don't they put some lights out here?" he asked before walking off.

Good question.

Lighting, according to highway safety experts, might well be the one improvement that would immediately decrease the number of fatalities along U.S. 19.

And very little of Pasco's portion of U.S. 19 is lighted at all, none of it completely. Lights have been installed on at least one side of the road from the New Port Richey line at Marine Parkway to the Port Richey line just past Ridge Road. The other 14 miles have no lights.

Lighting doesn't come cheap.

First there is the installation. Then someone has to change the bulbs. And then someone has to pay the electric bill.

According to Marion Pscion, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, plans are in the works for lights in the areas from State Road 52 to Denton Avenue at a cost of nearly $2-million. Bids for the job will be put out in the 2003-2004 fiscal year, she said.

The DOT and the county are now working out who will maintain the lights and pay the bill, Assistant County Administrator Bipin Parikh said. He said county workers have a hard time maintaining lights on county roads, so adding more could be a problem.

"The maintenance is a big issue," he said.

In that stretch of U.S. 19 scheduled to get lights, 20 people died between 1990 and 2000, about 35 percent of all deaths on that roadway for that decade.

Beyond lights, the list of road improvements to protect pedestrians gets real small.

"There's not a whole lot you can do," said Keith Crawford, the assistant district traffic operations manager at FDOT.

Much of any solution, many who are concerned with U.S. 19 safety said, lies with the pedestrian. At some point, they said, individuals have to take responsibility for their own safety.

-- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or toll free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com.

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