Residents stress importance of pedestrian safety along Harbor Boulevard

Whether it's a pedestrian activated system or a fully signalized traffic light, city leaders are exploring their options as they look for ways to safely move pedestrian traffic from the Marler Street parking lot to the south side of U.S. Hwy. 98.

Destin’s City council wants to give the green light to a full traffic signal at the Marler Street parking lot. Now they just need the blessing of the Florida Department of Transportation.

"Next summer is coming," former Councilman Dewey Destin told city leaders. "It's only a matter of time before someone parks in our parking lot and tries to cross the roadway to our boardwalk and gets killed."

Pedestrian safety has been one of the city's top priorities, especially in the harbor district where it's not uncommon to see people darting across the roadway to get from one side of U.S. Hwy. 98 to the other.

There are a wide variety of pedestrian safety features available for consideration, such as basic signage and pavement markings or  activated crossing systems and full traffic signals.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, and business owners have pledged their moral and/or financial support of a traffic signal.

In his letter, Sheriff Larry Ashley wrote "it is my opinion the most prudent method of enhancing traffic safety would be the installation of a fully signalized traffic control device at the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Marler Street."

Ashley noted that the corridor between the Marler Bridge and Main Street in Destin was one of the most heavily travelled areas within Okaloosa County.

As for the chamber, "a full functioning traffic signal is needed now," as there have been "many accidents and pedestrian injuries/fatalities" in the area.

Business owners who have agreed to pledge financially include Ray Watson ($5,000), Alan Laird ($25,000), Keith Howard ($25,000), Claude Perry ($25,000), and Dewey Destin ($5,000).

Local businessman Mike Buckingham also spoke up at Monday's meeting to show his support for a traffic signal.

"I can't stress to you enough how important this traffic light is," he said.

While the traffic light would help, Councilman Jim Wood also stressed the importance of residents and visitors doing their part to stay safe.

"We've seemed to have never met a crosswalk in this town that people want to use," he said. "I don't know why you would dart across Highway 98, especially at night when you are wearing dark clothing and sometimes been drinking."

"Go look in the mirror; the enemy is you and you have found yourself," he added. "Let's encourage folks to do the safe thing, to do the right thing."

After some confusion about the best way to proceed, city leaders agreed to two motions. One would essentially have the city "explore all options" available for pedestrian safety, while making improvements at Marler Street. The other motion would call for the city to issues letters to area representatives asking them for support and possible funding options.

Both motions passed unanimously.