All signs point to go for walkers
By LEON M. TUCKER
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000
DUNEDIN -- From the patio of Skip's Bar & Grill in Dunedin, Leanna Skerritt and Beverly Nelson say they've seen it all.
"We see so many near hits and misses out here," said Skerritt. "Sometimes the cars drive so fast through here, we see them bottom out."
The women say the intersection of Douglas Avenue and Main Street isn't particularly safe for walkers.
Dunedin Mayor Tom Anderson wants to change that.
Two weeks ago, the city activated a traffic system at the intersection that lets pedestrians stop traffic in all directions -- rather than just two directions, as most systems do -- so they can cross safely.
Dunedin is the only city in Pinellas County using the system, county officials say.
"We have quite a few elderly people who have difficulty getting across these streets," Anderson said. "It's something that will be good for busy intersections."
Anderson said he got the idea from when he visited New York in 1950. He remembered how at a particular intersection, traffic stopped in all directions for walkers, who crossed freely.
As for the possibility of angering motorists: "Tough," Anderson said. "This is to be pedestrian-friendly, and that's what the whole idea is about."
Here's how it works:
There are buttons at the four corners of the intersection. When a pedestrian approaches the intersection and wants to cross the street, he or she can press the button and stop traffic traveling in all directions.
With traffic stopped, walkers can even cross the intersection diagonally.
But that's not an option all walkers choose to take.
"I think it's stupid," said resident Sarah Krick as she waited to cross the intersection. "I would never walk diagonally across the street because I would be afraid of being hit."
The new system is part of the city's Strategic Long Term Plan for 2000-2005. That push to improve public safety includes reducing the number of traffic accidents by improving traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
In September, the city installed decorative black poles with arms at the intersection, from which new traffic signals hang. The new system, which cost the city about $90,000, replaced concrete poles and a crisscross of wires and traffic signals city officials say was an eyesore.
"It was just a visual blight," said Bob Brotherton, Dunedin's director of public works and utilities. "We wanted to make the intersection more functional for pedestrians and make it visually pleasing."
The traffic system stands alone and is not programmed with a string of traffic signals designed to keep traffic moving, according to Hikman Rahman, division director of traffic for Dunedin. He said the "all-red" program is popular in larger cities like New York and Chicago where pedestrian traffic is heavy, but is relatively new to Florida.
"I haven't had any complaints since it's been activated," Rahman said. "Normally, if it is something people don't like, they make sure we hear about it."
In addition to the "all-red" system, the city will activate a bell, which will alert visually impaired pedestrians when to cross. The city also plans to install tiny lights into the pavement to illuminate the crosswalk when the signal goes off.
"At a small intersection like that in a downtown area, it doesn't have that much of an impact," said Ken Jacobs, signal operations manager for Pinellas County. "It's a good operation for that kind of intersection and tends to work very well."
Brotherton said the system could work elsewhere, too.
"Any intersection in Pinellas County can be made to work that way," Brotherton said. "It seems like the signals we have in Florida are geared toward the automobile and not the pedestrian. We're trying to change that in our downtown."
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