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Pedestrian safety is countywide need

A Times Editorial
Published February 29, 2004

Largo police have quite a challenge ahead: They are trying to figure out how to persuade pedestrians to use common sense about crossing a road.

Or, as Chief Lester Aradi put it, the department is trying to find a way to "keep pedestrians from killing themselves."

Largo police are upset about the number of pedestrians who have been hit by cars in the city in recent weeks. At least three have died and another was critically injured. In some cases, the pedestrians appear to have taken a terrible chance crossing the road at the time and place they did.

On Feb. 14, 73-year-old John Martin Jarboe chose to run across Ulmerton Road when it was dark and raining. He was hit by a car and killed. He was carrying a bottle of orange juice he had purchased at a convenience store and was going back to his home at Ranchero Village Mobile Home Park.

We will never know why Jarboe chose to take the risk of crossing Ulmerton Road on foot on a dark and rainy night for a bottle of orange juice. Surely, most would agree it was a bad choice. But those kinds of decisions are being made by pedestrians all over traffic-clogged Pinellas County, too often with fatal consequences. The following Monday, James Beal, 50, chose to run across Ulmerton Road in the dark near 119th Street and was critically injured when hit by a car. Since the holidays, another Largo pedestrian died when he crossed East Bay Drive and a bicyclist was killed cutting across oncoming traffic.

The frustration Largo police officers are feeling also has been felt in Oldsmar, where pedestrians regularly took their lives in their hands crossing busy six-lane Curlew Road, and by county officials reviewing the number of pedestrian deaths on U.S. 19. Most often, the pedestrians killed on U.S. 19 are trying to cross the highway between intersections without the benefit of traffic lights to slow the traffic. Often, they are crossing at night, when the darkness makes it extremely difficult to gauge the speed of oncoming traffic.

Largo police are asking a question many others have asked: Why do pedestrians do these things? Why would anyone choose to cross six- or eight-lane Ulmerton Road in the dark and the rain for a bottle of juice?

There is no single answer, of course, which enormously complicates the process of finding solutions. Some pedestrians don't own cars or no longer drive, so they walk to take care of their needs. They may do so much walking that they become too nonchalant about the hazards of being a pedestrian in a metropolitan county loaded with high-speed traffic.

Some could use public transportation, but choose not to because the buses don't run late enough or frequently enough, or because they don't like riding a bus or because all they need to do is cross the road, so why bother with a bus?

They could ask someone for a ride to the store, but some people don't like to be bothered.

If they are determined to walk across a major roadway, why don't they walk to an intersection where there is a light and a crosswalk? One answer could be that on the county's busiest roads, lights may be a half a mile or more apart. That is a long way to go out of one's way.

Some people just assume that bad things only happen to others.

Largo police are talking with city officials about ways to address the problem in Largo, but this really should be a countywide conversation among law enforcement agencies and government officials. Would changes in bus routes or hours help? Do jaywalking laws need to be instituted to discourage people from crossing roads in dangerous areas? Is the answer to add traffic signals in spots where pedestrians seem determined to cross, and if so, what will that do to the flow of traffic? Could mobile home parks and congregate living facilities provide daily transportation to a grocery store for residents who need to pick up a few things? What solutions have other metropolitan areas around the country discovered?

Some say government cannot protect people from their own poor choices, but Largo officials are doing the right thing when they search for answers that could save lives.

[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]

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