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Dr. Delay

Bus shelters lead to hazardous jaywalking

By JEAN HELLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Boy, talk about an accident waiting to happen . . .

Jessie the Westie, pothole pooch and all-around good dog, nearly jumped out of her restraining harness recently as we drove around the Tyrone Square Mall neighborhood looking into a situation brought to my attention by St. Petersburg's John Royse.

If you are on 22nd Avenue N just south of the mall, please be on the alert for people crossing the street in the middle of the block through very heavy traffic near 68th Street. It's a horrendous situation with which St. Petersburg officials are acutely familiar. A search for a fix already was under way when we caught up last week with Angelo Rao, transportation and parking services director.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority recently built a series of bus shelters along the north side of 22nd Avenue just east of 68th Street behind the mall. Each of the new shelters serves a group of specific routes, and the route numbers are displayed on the front of the shelters. They are directly across 22nd Avenue from another shelter that serves a different set of routes.

Many riders who are transferring have to cross the busy street to do so, and it appeared to Jessie and me, for one 45-minute period we watched late last week, that very few folks walk up to the 68th street intersection to cross on the light. Instead, they jaywalk in the middle of the block, dodging cars as they go.

"PSTA installed those facilities recently with our complete approval so the buses didn't have to stop in the mall because the mall had some issues with that," said Rao. "For somebody making a connection, the fastest way to do it is to run through traffic. Human nature is to take the path of least resistance, the quickest way between two points.

"Obviously, we have to take a hard look at this. We're trying to find some way to make a safe crossing in the middle of the block. That's what we're wrestling with now."

Rao said he had considered and rejected the idea of fencing or rows of shrubbery along the curbs that would force people to walk up to the 68th Street intersection, "but I don't want to be a bad guy like that. I'll find some other solution."

Rao did not try to minimize the danger the present situation creates.

"There haven't been any accidents yet that we're aware of, but whether there have or not, it's still an issue," he said. "The potential for an accident is out there. We need to deal with it somehow. This is very real."

Rao said the city had a similar situation on 22nd Avenue N around Crescent Lake Park, where there weren't even any medians to provide temporary respite for people trying to get across the street.

"We put in medians, which had the effect of narrowing the traffic lanes, which slowed traffic down," he said. "It was interesting because almost immediately use of the park shot up."

I called Janet Recca, director of marketing for PSTA, to ask if the authority had any ideas about making the bus stop areas at Tyrone safer, but she didn't call me back. Come on, Janet, where are standards?

* * *

While we're on the subject of 22nd Avenue N, watch yourselves in the area between 49th and 56th streets where a repaving project has cut four lanes to two and created some hairy lane shifts. Returning from the mall last week, Jessie and I observed a near-collision at the 49th Street intersection, despite the fact that a police officer and a member of the road crew were directing traffic.

A suggestion for the police: If you are going to have an actual person out there directing traffic, wouldn't it be a good idea to turn off the traffic signal? That way drivers won't be getting automated instructions at odds with the human instructions.

* * *

I know it looks like the city of St. Petersburg is putting in some new sewer lines near the library on Mirror Lake downtown, but it's really a neat environmental project. So when you get squeezed down to one lane, know it's for a good cause.

The city and the Southwest Florida Water Management District are splitting the $390,000 cost of putting a stormwater pretreatment system in the lake. When it is completed, it will inject alum into stormwater before it enters Mirror Lake at five outfalls. The alum coagulates small particles of debris. It's sort of like making snowballs out of dirt.

The little particles become bigger, heavier masses that sink to the bottom of the lake faster.

It not only improves the quality of the water in the lake, it improves the quality of the water the lake discharges into Tampa Bay.

Michael Connors, engineering and stormwater director, said a similar but much larger system was installed four years ago at Lake Maggiore in south St. Petersburg at a cost of $3.5-million.

"It's good for aesthetics and for wildlife," Connors said.

The Mirror Lake project will be completed in 30 to 45 days, Connors said.

-- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at docdelay@sptimes.com, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave., S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

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