Florida tops all states in citrus production and tourism, but it's also number one in a category not worth bragging about – pedestrian deaths.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 490 pedestrians were killed on Florida roadways in 2011, the most recent statistics available. California's 625 fatalities exceeded that total but, on a per capita basis, the Sunshine State's pedestrian death rate is higher – at 2.57 per 100,000 population.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is trying to reverse that deadly statistic. The agency took its safety message to the streets on Wednesday as part of national "Stop on Red" week. Red-shirted employees worked Front Beach Road near the Panama City Beach pier, where pedestrians and vehicles constantly cross paths.
"We're reminding motorists to stop before the stop bar and pedestrians to use the cross walk and make sure they're using the signal correctly," Trenda McPherson, FDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Program Manager, said. "Most people are doing it right, it's just a very few that aren't and our goal is to increase that awareness so everybody is doing it right."
Meanwhile, the department is making sure motorists aren't the only beneficiaries of highway improvements. "[On] each one of our projects, we're looking at how we can incorporate safety features for pedestrians and bicyclists," FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said.
The FDOT is conducting a pedestrian safety study along the entire corridor from Escambia County to Gulf County. Improvements being considered include reflective signage, crosswalks and traffic signal timing, Satter said.
In Bay County, safety improvements already include bike lanes and sidewalks in places where they haven't always been – Panama City Beach Parkway, for example.
"You're going to see a lot of pedestrian traffic in that area, so it's better to get ahead of that [and] have pedestrian facilities available to folks," Satter said. "When that growth and those businesses come in, they have a safe facility for pedestrians in that area."
Wayde Breeden walks everywhere and was heading to work Wednesday afternoon. "I used to try to walk the sides of the roads [but] I don't do it any more, it's just not safe," Breeden said. "The sidewalks are the best things to happen in this town."
McPherson said preventing traffic fatalities is priority number one. "Our goal is to drive those fatalities down by increasing awareness... making sure that people understand the value of watching for pedestrians and the value of being safe as a pedestrian," McPherson said.
Click here to visit the FDOT's pedestrian and bicycle safety website.