Expert: Crosswalk safety is team effort

Drivers, pedestrians must stay alert, work together to avoid deadly crashes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Safety doesn't happen by accident. It happens when you pay attention.

That's the message that the Florida Department of Transportation, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Florida Highway Patrol hope you'll remember. Whether you're in a car, on a bike or on foot, staying alert today can keep you alive tomorrow, they say.

Learning the rules of the road is one part of the equation. According to FDOT's numbers, 38 percent of pedestrian crashes in Duval County between 2011 and 2013 happened while the person was in a crosswalk.

In 2012, JSO reported 24 vehicle vs. pedestrian deaths. In 2013, the number was the same. The name dropped to 23 in 2014. But so far this year, Duval County has 27 deaths, and that number is expected to rise around the holidays. FDOT hasn't released statistics for 2014 or 2015.

READ: Safety tips for pedestrians, drivers

News4Jax visited four crosswalks in Jacksonville: the intersection of Prudential Drive and Flagler Avenue, West Adams and North Clay streets downtown, University and Beach boulevards, and San Marco Boulevard near Balis Place.

At each intersection, we witnessed at least one close call.

Jason Dominguez, an instructor at Jax Driving School, said he watches drivers make mistakes every day, like speeding and not paying attention to what's around them. His advice to drivers remains the same.

"If you see anybody approaching a crosswalk, slow down and prepare to stop," he said. "Once you see they are ready to cross the street, then you've got to stop. Always yield to pedestrians in crosswalks."

Cassandra Coon walks to and from work crossing Prudential Drive every day. The crosswalk has yield signs, but does not have a signal.

"It's terrifying," Coon said. "I mean, people are not paying attention. They are either on their phones or they're in too much of a rush to get to work or wherever it is they're going."

Coon is among many pedestrians who fear for their safety. Chris Horner, who also crosses Prudential often, said he locks eyes with drivers before heading into the crosswalk.

"A lot of cars don't really want to stop. They will drive right by you and make the cut before you get to the edge," Horner said. "I've seen countless times where people have come within a foot when coming to a stop at a crosswalk."

It's the law to yield to pedestrians, especially if they are in a crosswalk. Even if pedestrians don't have the right of way, drivers must yield. FDOT officials said it's important for people on foot to realize that they don't always have the right of way at intersections with signals. They must press the crossing button and wait until the "Walk" signal lights up.

"Just because you put your foot in the intersection doesn't mean the driver is going to stop," News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. "You don't want to just ... step into the crosswalk. Make sure the driver sees you, and if the car continues to come, you don't cross the street. Wait until the car sees you and stops before you cross the street."

Smith said avoiding a crash requires a team effort between the driver and the pedestrian.

"That could be someone's wife, mother, daughter, brother, father, uncle, whoever. I mean, that is somebody very important," Coon said. "You know, 15 seconds, maybe it costs you 5 minutes in traffic, or maybe you're a couple seconds late to work, but that's somebody's life. Pay attention."

If you think there is an area in the city that needs a crosswalk, you must first determine whether the area is a private development or owned by the city or state, and then contact the appropriate agency.

The FDOT said residents can request  that its traffic operations department look at an area to determine if a traffic study would be beneficial. It has to be an area that has no stop sign or traffic signal. For more information, go to www.dot.state.fl.us/trafficoperations.

Biking safety is also a big concern for local and state officials. According to FDOT, the number of bicyclists who died after being hit by a car increased by 80 percent from 2011 to 2012. That number includes some bicyclists who were impaired and some who didn't follow the rules of the road. 

Some tips for a safer ride include wearing a helmet at all times, riding in the same direction of traffic on the street and obeying all traffic signs, signals and lane markings. FDOT officials said it's better to yield to traffic when appropriate rather than "be in the right" and risk getting hurt.

They also recommend wearing bright clothing and positioning yourself in a lane where others can easily see you. When riding at night, always use a headlight and taillight to help with visibility.

FDOT officials said drivers need to be aware of bicyclists, too, by focusing on the road. Drivers should pass people on bikes safely by allowing at lease 3 feet between the car and the bicyclist. 

The FDOT has teamed up with FHP and the JSO for a campaign called "Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow." They host promotional events throughout the county in an effort to educate everyone about traffic safety. For more information, go to www.AlertTodayFlorida.com.

For more information on walking and biking statistics and facts, visit http://www.bikewalkalliance.org/resources/benchmarking.