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St. Augustine campaign aims for traffic safety

Officials hope to reduce accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Pedestrians and bicyclists are struck by motorists every day. The numbers in St. Johns County are increasing every year, and now officials are launching a campaign to raise awareness for drivers.

Research shows St. Augustine is a hotspot for these types of crashes, so officials have created a campaign to decrease the yearly crash numbers.

King Street is one of the busiest intersections in St. Augustine. Officials said Monday the area averages 30 pedestrian or bicycle crashes every year.

"In the course of a week you'll have 30,000-40,000 cars coming down the Bay front," said Officer Steve Fricke. "So there's a lot of opportunity for pedestrian-bicycle interaction."

And with the area being a tourist hotspot, that number is only growing. Police are doing all that they can to target the affected demographics.

"Anytime you're in the downtown area, we'll handle 7 million tourists through this community a year," Fricke said. "That's half the population of New York City."

Officials from the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization and the St. Augustine Police Department have created the Yield to Life campaign to help bicyclists and drivers "slow their roll."

Last year the two groups partnered for a similar campaign which resulted in a 71 percent decrease in bicycle/pedestrian accidents at targeted intersections along Atlantic Boulevard.

Vice Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline said a solution to the congested downtown area is promoting more bikes and pedestrian activities. She said a recent study shows the area is one of the most dangerous in Florida.

"It was a regional safety study, and in the region of North Florida the King Street corridor was ranked No. 5 for vulnerable users," Sikes-Kline said. "So we're working very hard to reduce crashes and accidents there."

The Yield to Life campaign is for everyone in the city, but it targets college students, like Kalynn Serman, who attends Flagler College.

"We walk to and from class every day. I bike some days," Serman said. "The cars really do look out for you. Like if you're about to walk across, they'll let you go. There are some people who just don't pay attention that well. But I do feel safe walking around campus."

But some motorists, like BJ Kalaida, said it's a two-way street, and that students aren't always being cautious.

"They don't have any helmets," Kalaida said. "They can have their earphones in. They can be talking, doing whatever. They can be texting on their bicycles. I've seen it happening."

Fricke said it's not just near the college that there have been issues. Cathedral Place and Anastasia Boulevard carry a lot of beach traffic. And he said more officers will be cracking down.

"We're going to be concentrating on serious moving violations that put people on bicycles at risk," Fricke said. "That's running red lights, running stop signs, riding around at night without lights. And we hope to encourage people to operate more safely, so everyone can get where they need to go in St. Augustine."

Anyone who breaks one of those traffic safety laws receive a civil citation. If they can't pay, there's community service.

Police planned to begin outreach Monday, and they'll be passing out reflective shirts to demonstrate what to wear when bicycling.

On Saturday, officials also plan to teach a course on bike safety for all cyclists in the area.

The campaign runs from now through Sept. 21.