'Please go to a crosswalk': As pedestrian study continues in Destin, signage, intersections upgraded

Matt Algarin

With the summer season right around the corner, the Florida Department of Transportation is upgrading pedestrian features along U.S. Hwy. 98 in Destin.

"There is a lot of pedestrian traffic down here in the tourist season," said Jared Perdue, district traffic operations engineer for FDOT district 3. "There are so many things to look at when it comes to pedestrian safety — it's not your typical data-driven engineering study — and you have to consider the speed aspect, the behavior aspect and other factors."

FDOT crews are currently conducting two separate studies in the area. The first study focuses on the entire Hwy. 98 corridor through the district, and the second focuses specifically on the roadway inside the Destin city limits.

The Destin study will use a three-phase approach. First, crews will update and refresh all of the existing pedestrian features, such as signs and crosswalks, to meet current standards. They will then conduct an engineering study to evaluate overall pedestrian safety, before compiling a list of actionable items and evaluating implementation strategies.

Because of the "crash history" in Destin, Perdue said Hwy. 98 through Destin "is already a concern."

"You really don't want to have a substantial crash history," he said. "That means pedestrians have been hit and you've had tragic accidents."

Over the years, Hwy. 98 has been dubbed "Bloody 98," due to the number of pedestrian accidents on the roadway. Based on information provided to The Log in November 2012, there had been 248 accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians/bicyclists in Destin since 2002.

A Log investigation in 2010 showed that there were nine pedestrian fatalities during the decade in Destin. In 2011, Robert Crawford and Michael Brewster were both killed just outside city limits by motorists on Okaloosa Island. In Walton County, Galina Bumbalova and Kurt Lang Frankel were killed across the Walton County Line after being struck from behind while riding bicycles on the roadway.

Perdue told city leaders during their April 1 City Council meeting that FDOT is about halfway through with phase one of the program. Driving through the city, improvements along Hwy. 98 can already be seen. Crosswalks are now more visible, and signs have been replaced for better visibility.

Looking at a possible long-term solutions, council members had plenty of ideas for FDOT officials.

 Councilman Jim Foreman said they should consider continuing the harbor boardwalk underneath the Marler Bridge, which has been discussed before, as an option for safe passage.

"It gets pedestrians to the parking areas on the north side," he said. "That's been a project we've had for some time. It's become more important lately because parking is so critical."

Councilman Cyron Marler took more of a colorful approach, saying that brightly colored crosswalks would be more visible to motorists.

"I think if we tried to enhance it by doing something with yellow or blue or pink…" he said. "People get complacent and they don't see it. If we did something else besides straight white, I think it would work."

While pedestrian safety is a "priority,” Councilman Jim Wood told his colleagues and FDOT officials that sometimes it takes more than improvements to pedestrian features to keep motorists safe.

"Unfortunately we can build all of the crosswalks in the world, but these things do not substitute for good judgment on the part of pedestrians," he said. "People are not going to cross in the crosswalks, and I see it every day."

"Please go to a crosswalk," he added. "They are here for your protection; so please use them."

FDOT's study will be comprehensive and is expected to last anywhere between six months and a year, Perdue told city leaders.

"This is an in-depth study," he said. "We don't want to miss anything."