City councilman: ‘It's incumbent upon us to get people across that roadway safely


While their ideas may vary on the best way to get pedestrians across U.S. Hwy. 98, city leaders can agree on one thing, that something has to be done — quickly.

"A lot of people have been killed down there," Councilman Tuffy Dixon told The Log. "It's incumbent upon us to get people across that roadway safely."

Highway 98 has long been derided as "Bloody 98" due to the amount of traffic fatalities that have taken place along the roadway over the years.

Most recently, two pedestrians were hit while crossing the road after the city's Fourth of July celebration. Neither accident was fatal. In 2013, there have been zero fatalities on Hwy. 98, one "incapacitating" injury and five "non-incapacitating" injuries, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.

Based on information provided to The Log in November 2012, there had been 248 accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians/bicyclists in Destin since 2002.

Click her to read The Log November story 

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. Just across the Walton County line, Galina Bumbalova and Kurt Lang Frankel were killed after being struck from behind while riding bicycles on the roadway.

As for the solution, there can be any number of options, such as underground tunnels, overpasses or basic enhancements to existing pedestrian features. Costs can be relatively inexpensive to extremely costly, depending on the option.

Click here to read about the pedestrain signage upgrades in Destin

"We need three to four overpasses and tunnels down there," Dixon said. "The only thing is you can't really hide an overpass though, and it would have to be handicap accessible."

The problem with tunnels, Dixon said, is safety concerns and issues with flooding.

And while the city doesn't have funding to construct these types of crossing features currently, Dixon suggested that a public-private partnership could be formed to share the cost.

The most pressing concern for Dixon though is moving people safely across the street from the city's Marler Street parking lot to the Harbor District, which is continually expanding and adding attractions to draw visitors in.

With the completion of the harbor boardwalk, and new attractions at HarborWalk Village, such as the zipline or 7-D movie theater, visitors are flocking to the harbor.

Councilman Cyron Marler, who works along the harbor at Legendary Inc., has seen the crowds growing and he told The Log an immediate improvement could be as simple as adding more crosswalks, as long as they were at signalized intersections.

"Education is key though," he said, adding that the funding available for major improvements could be hard to come by. "It's a Catch 22. You want something done, but who is going to pay for it?"

Another relatively easy fix, Marler said, would be to adjust the timing of the traffic lights at Stahlman Avenue. Right now, he said there is not enough time for kids or even older people to make it across the road in the 30-45 seconds that's allotted currently.

Legendary Inc. CEO Peter Bos told The Log that something has to be done or the city could see more accidents due to people crossing the road. An overpass wasn't high on his list, as they can be expensive and not aesthetically pleasing.

Bos suggested continuing the harbor boardwalk underneath the Marler Bridge, connecting HarborWalk Village to the parcel of land directly across the street. He said the infrastructure, for the most part, is already in place.

Councilman Jim Foreman is also a proponent of taking pedestrian traffic underneath the bridge. He told The Log that going "under the bridge was part of an old Harbor CRA concept."

"It turned out that our consultants had done some engineering research that showed different options for continuing under the bridge," Foreman said, adding that the key is to change people's behaviors. "It's like Disney World: You have to give people only one option from A to B."

A conceptual design for a boardwalk underneath the Marler Bridge was created in 2003-2004, city planner Hank Woollard told The Log. While the concept is not currently a priority, Woollard said there were issues with this type of project that would have to be worked out, such as elevation differences between the height of the roadway and depth necessary to provide adequate clearance under the bridge, insufficient right-of-way to do necessary ramping to meet American with Disabilities slope requirements and the overall cost of the project "relative to other project priorities."

As the focal point of the city shifts back to the harbor, an emphasis must be placed on pedestrian safety, Dixon told The Log.

"It has to be a priority for the city," he said. "We've made the draw and we are inviting people to come to the boardwalk, so we've got to get this taken care of."