Call for change after tragedy in St. Nicholas

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St. Nicholas business owners and nearby residents have been concerned about speeding traffic for some time about Beach Boulevard near the St. Nicholas Town Center.

With one crosswalk at Beach Boulevard and San Mateo Avenue, and another almost one-third of a mile away at Linden Avenue – with no safety islands or other crosswalks in between – pedestrians frequently take their chances and cross the busy road where it’s most convenient.

Drivers don’t expect to see a pedestrian crossing the middle of the busy road. Poor visibility for drivers during dawn and dusk hours compounds the problem.

Recently, these conditions proved to be a tragic combination.

On Aug. 19, 2015, around 6:40 a.m., a retired Jacksonville newspaper reporter attempted to cross Beach Boulevard in St. Nicholas near the intersection of Palmer Terrace. He was struck by an SUV and died on the scene.

Unfortunately, he attempted to cross where there was no pedestrian crosswalk and was hit in the area between the lanes of traffic.

“Before, we had a wider median so you could stop halfway across,” said Suzanne Jenkins, former Jacksonville Councilwoman and Englewood area resident. “They were removed. It’s a retail place; why do we want to make traffic go faster?”

Bring back the median

After the installation of the overpass several decades ago to move traffic from the beaches to downtown, St. Nicholas has seen its share of accidents, including pedestrian fatalities.

StNickAccident_02“The sad part is if that median had remained the way it was, the man wouldn’t have gotten killed because he would have been standing on that median,” said Joe Joseph, a St. Nicholas property owner, of the recent fatality.

Joseph said the Florida Department of Transportation decided Beach Boulevard needed to be concrete and narrowed, and at the time he had warned FDOT the speeds allowed by the overpass were an accident waiting to happen.

Though the medians go back to the 1970s, exactly when they were removed can’t specifically be determined, said Ron Tittle, public information officer for FDOT’s Northeast Florida region.

This area of Beach Boulevard, among other issues, was discussed during a monthly meeting with the Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, area health centers, FDOT engineers, and others, Tittle said, adding that FDOT is always trying to identify problem areas needing their attention.

“A traffic circle could be done through there, though there would still be a traffic light at one of the points [on the circle],” Jenkins said.

Roundabouts, often thought of as traffic circles, were installed in San Marco Square when it was revamped several years ago. Crosswalks and roundabouts through the area combine to keep traffic moving without speeding; crosswalks and green areas provide pedestrians with several safe options and stopping points for crossing streets.

However, Beach and Atlantic Boulevards are part of Jacksonville’s Hurricane Evacuation System, said Tittle.

While serving to calm traffic, roundabouts or traffic circles could impede emergency evacuation efforts, risking injury or death to evacuees while making it difficult for emergency personnel to navigate through the area.

Burden for safety on drivers and pedestrians

Chris Burns, Esq., chair of the Jacksonville Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, feels travel speeds of motorists through the area are too high, and that there are inadequate protected crosswalks for pedestrians.

Burns echoes Jenkins’ and Joseph’s views for needed safety improvements.

“Lowering speed limits with police enforcement is not nearly enough, because motorists will resist compliance,” he said. “The physical features of the roads, such as changes to the landscaping and roadway features, should be utilized to cause drivers to ‘naturally’ lower speeds.”

What can be done right now to stay safe is free and relies on awareness. “Pedestrians need to be mindful that motorists might not always see them, even if they’re in a protected crosswalk. Pedestrians can’t always assume they’re going to be safe,” said Tittle.

Motorists get in a hurry, he continued, and might check left while turning right and miss a pedestrian in a crosswalk, adding that motorists “have to be conscientious while driving and have situational awareness of other motorists and pedestrians.”

Jacksonville’s Alert Today Alive Tomorrow program (www.alerttodayflorida.com/atat.html), offered through Florida’s Pedestrian & Bicycle Focused Initiative, provides real-world safety information for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike.

By Vince Iampietro
Resident Community News

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