When it comes to vehicular and pedestrian traffic along U.S. Highway 98 in Destin, it's not a good combination.
"The unfortunate case here is they have to mix," said Jared Perdue, the district design engineer for district three of the Florida Department of Transportation. "What we are trying to do is find a safe way to balance all of those modes."
Perdue told city leaders during the June 22 Destin City Council meeting that the 3.5-mile portion of Hwy. 98 the FDOT studied, from Marler Bridge to Indian Bayou Trail, is a "very unique corridor" and presented number challenges. He added the roadway sees up to 40,000 vehicles traversing it daily.
Transportation officials have been studying this stretch of roadway since 2013 and were presenting the council with their finalized safety assessment Monday night.
FDOT coordinated with the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office to compile crash data for the area, in addition to conducting a safety audit and evaluating vehicular and pedestrian volumes.
"We wanted everything to be on the table with this," Perdue said.
Crash data showed a total of 617 crashes/incidents in the study area from 2007 to March 2013. Of those, 35 percent were rear-end collisions and 18 percent involved pedestrians. The study reported a total of seven fatalities from 2007 to March 2013.
According to the study, "based on field reviews and observations of the motorists, it appears that there is a lack of driver awareness to pedestrians that cross U.S. 98 at both mid-block crossings and signalized intersections."
"Any time one person is seriously injured or dies on a state highway system, it's a big deal," Perdue said.
For those who travel Hwy. 98 regularly during the spring break and summer season, pedestrians darting across the roadway near Big Kahuna's and Chick-fil-a are common sights.
Perdue told city leaders the area near the water park was worrisome, as there are no pedestrian crossing facilities in the area.
"There are a significant number of pedestrians crossing there," he said. "We've actually seen a family with children standing there (in the median waiting to cross) with cars blazing by."
Part of the issue may be the distance between signalized intersections, where someone may feel safer crossing.
From Gulf Shore Drive to Airport Road there is a gap of 4,950 feet. From Stahlman Avenue to Benning Drive, the gap is 4,700 feet.
And not only are there large gaps between signalized intersections, Councilman Tuffy Dixon said the existing signage and crossings are not consistent.
"In Destin, I see about three or four different types of pedestrian crossings," he said. "If it's just a sign there, they are supposed to stop."
Perdue assured Dixon the FDOT would make sure every crosswalk along Hwy. 98 is consistent.
Perdue said state law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians who are trying to cross at a sidewalk.
"Believe it or not, the majority of motorists don't know that," he said. "It's a real challenge."
As for the way forward though, the FDOT provided the city short term, mid term and long term recommendations to improve the safety along Hwy. 98.
Short term recommendations included: trimming landscape adjacent to sidewalks; working with local businesses to redirect irrigation spray, which forces people to leave the sidewalk; install consistent signage; install landscaping along medians to prohibit pedestrian crossing; and work with local entities to produce educational public service announcements.
Mid term recommendations included: installation of additional pedestrian signage and marking to aide in guidance; installation of driver awareness signs; replacing substandard curb ramps and sidewalks; and replacing existing six foot sidewalks with 10-foot sidewalks in select locations.
As for the long term recommendations, the FDOT suggested: a comprehensive study to close or modify median openings; studying the possibility of installing fencing to help channel pedestrians; construction of a right turn lane at the parking garage entrance to Emerald Grande; study whether or not to close the median opening at Palmetto Drive and installing a signal at Marler Street; and studying alternate means/routes of pedestrian crossings.
The most "out of the box" recommendation is the installation of what was described as a "Super Street." This would call for the installation of signalized U-turns, which allow for more controlled turns in a congested area.
The city will now take the recommendations and further discuss them before providing final thoughts and desires to the FDOT by the end of September.
"I think this is the building block," City Manager Greg Kisela said.
THE STUDY AREA
* 3.5-miles: From Marler Bridge to Indian Bayou Trail
* Four 12-foot lanes (U.S. Hwy 98)
* Sidewalks along both sides of roadway
* Raised median with landscaping or grass
* Six signalized intersections: Stahlman Drive, Benning Drive, Beach Drive, Main Street, Gulf Shore Drive and Airport Road
* Four un-signalized mid-block crossings