New crosswalks evoke concerns about safety

New crosswalks evoke concerns about safety
FDOT installed a pedestrian-actualized warning signal at Van Wert Avenue to help Boone Park visitors to safely cross St. Johns Avenue.

The Florida Department of Transportation probably isn’t feeling the love from some Avondale residents right now.

Despite efforts to appease one group of residents long concerned about speeding on St. Johns Avenue, the FDOT’s installation of three Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB) on what is also known as State Road 211 has created a negative reaction on two fronts.

The beacons, installed in the heart of the Shoppes of Avondale at Van Wert Avenue, Dancy Street and Talbot Avenue, were intended to provide a measure of safety for pedestrians trying to cross St. Johns Avenue. However, according to one camp of complaints, the traffic calming measures don’t go far enough.

Kim Clontz, mother of two daughters and instigator of the campaign to bring new playground equipment to Boone Park, said the beacons may not be doing what they were intended to do.

“Unfortunately, since it doesn’t specifically say ‘Stop’ (unlike the crosswalk at St. Vincent’s on Riverside Avenue), people just seem to be slowing down unless you are practically in the middle of the intersection,” said Clontz. “I’ve heard quite a bit of negativity, and nothing positive yet.”

Stacy McKinney offered the observation that it would have been less expensive to erect “Stop for pedestrians” signs similar to those in San Marco Square, and Mike Kapeghian said he didn’t think traffic seemed to notice the beacons.

Weighing in a bit more positively were Judy Moore and Sylvie Galbraith, who both said they found the beacons helpful and felt that cars were stopping. However, Rick Winegar noted that if drivers do respond, they barely slow down.

“If they are meant to give pedestrians in the crosswalk the right-of-way, they are not working and it is not obvious that is the intent,” Winegar commented on the NextDoor website. “Based on cities and towns (such as Toronto and Lake Saranac, New York), where this is the intent, tickets are the incentive. What is the intent here?”

Kerri Hatfield shared a reaction while attempting to use the crosswalks. “I’ve gotten a couple of lovely hand gestures when crossing now…that never happened before!” she said.

Pamela Telis lives across the street from the Boone Park playground and said she understands more than most that safer crosswalks are needed along St. Johns Avenue near Boone Park and the Shoppes of Avondale.

“I have witnessed drag racing along this stretch of road. People are driving faster and faster with no consequences,” Telis said in an email. “Unfortunately, without enforcement, little will change. Perhaps we can get the state to put up one of those boards that records speed for a few weeks. I think the data would be surprising.”

Others feel the historic neighborhood has been assaulted with unnecessary signage.  Alicia Grant said that curving St. Johns Avenue has “gotten along fine for close to a century” without the overabundance of pedestrian signage.

“My opposition to the signage that went up on St. John’s at Boone Park is that the signs are unsightly and for the most part ineffective. Once traffic leaves the Shoppes area, mostly at Dancy, vehicles begin to increase their speed,” Grant said. “Signs such as these are beginning to pop up all over town. At some point people have to take responsibility for their own safety and drivers need to be respectfully careful of pedestrians and cyclists. There is definitely a need for informational signs such as speed limits, stop, etc. but when signage reaches an overabundance, all signs lose their effectiveness. Drivers are assaulted from all sides and directions.”

Instrumental in getting Friends of Boone Park South established and a long-time proponent of nature’s scenery, Telis agrees that speeding is an issue, but she is less than pleased with the new beacons, one of which is nearby her home. 

“Unfortunately, the signs are hideous eyesores given the ‘historic character’ of the Shoppes. The City has spent many thousands of dollars for historic light posts, historic walkways, and requires shop owners to have historic building lighting in the Shoppes,” said Telis. “Now, the entrance to the Shoppes is simply ‘gross.’ There must be another option that offers the lights and signage that is more sensitive in design for the Historic District.”

Telis said during the early February installation she asked the workers if the beacons would include signs that told drivers to “stop when flashing.”

“The guy said there is no requirement for the cars to stop. The flashing lights are only to ‘slow down’ traffic,” she shared. “I told him that it seems that walkers think they can walk and that cars will stop. He admitted that most drivers are just ‘confused’ by these lights and don’t know if they should stop or not. He said walkers need to ‘not get a false sense of safety’ because they are flashing.”

FDOT plans to install signs which advise motorists it is a state law they must stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks, according to Ron Tittle, FDOT public information officer.

The RRFB is intended to let the motorist know that a pedestrian is waiting to use the crosswalk, Tittle wrote. The law requires motorists to yield for a pedestrian when they are in the crosswalk. Ultimately, the failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk is a law enforcement issue.  

The installation of the crosswalk signals fits into an overall desire of Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along SR211, a 3.72-mile FDOT-maintained road which begins at the intersection of San Juan Avenue and Herschel Street, follows St. Johns Avenue north to Riverside Avenue, where it makes a right at King Street and ends at Peninsular Place, just north of the Fuller Warren Bridge.

Following an informal traffic community workshop held by RAP in September 2016, Transportation Chair Kay Ehas reported that the committee is in the process of identifying the top five concerns for each of five activity segments along SR211, then will prepare a document for discussion with FDOT and the City of Jacksonville. Ehas said there would be another community meeting before meeting with the city and FDOT.

The wish list of changes from the workshop includes the reduction of the speed limit to 15 mph through the Shoppes of Avondale; a blinking crosswalk where Herschel and Woodmere Streets intersect with St. Johns Avenue; roundabouts at Edgewood Avenue and Cherry Street, and a new signal at the Commander Tower Apartments.

In the meantime, the RRFBs are being viewed with skepticism and concern.

“Before lights were installed, no one expected the cars to stop. Now, some may expect cars to stop,” said Telis. “This is even more scary than before, in my opinion.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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