Pedestrian crossing signal could save lives on deadly Florida roads

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A new Florida Department of Transportation crosswalk signal is saving lives and taxpayer dollars. During a celebration in Tampa Friday Florida Tax Watch awarded the team that made it.

The Tampa Bay region ranks the second most fatal area in the country for pedestrians.

“We’re one of the leading states. It’s a number one that we don’t want. It averages about 500 pedestrian deaths a year.”

That’s Mark Wilson, traffic operations engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation. Many of the accidents involving pedestrians happen when someone crosses a street between intersections. Some localities are installing mid-block crossing points to ease what Wilson calls an epidemic. The device he helped design improves on what’s already being used.

“Normally you would see a once a second yellow flashing beacon that was either on all the time or activated when you pushed the ‘ped’ button. Now we use a rectangular rapid flash that has a very unique pattern. It is mounted at a lower height which is at the driver’s eye height.”

The devices are called Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons. Wilson doesn’t have any proof yet that they’re working to reduce pedestrian accidents. But he’s confident the 22 spots in St. Petersburg they’re installed will improve.

“We’ve [been] getting a lot better compliance for the motorists to understand that when you see that rectangular flashing beacon that there’s a pedestrian in the street or one trying to cross.”

FDOT also placed the devices at some locations along Fletcher Avenue. The team of engineers was awarded for creating the device they estimate saves the state more than $800,000. That number was calculated based on a reduction in accidents, but the device itself is a cheaper alternative to new traffic signals.

“To put a couple post-mounted, they’re solar powered, battery operated and they’re what we call a very inexpensive device compared to putting a full traffic signal which would cost you well over $100,000.”

The pedestrian signals cost about $5,000 each and most crossings need two or three of them. The Florida Department of Transportation team was one of 21 award recipients in the Tampa region recognized for either cutting costs, reducing waste or fighting various types of fraud. People from groups like the Department of Children and Families, Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Health got cash prizes. Dominic Calabro is the president and CEO of Florida Tax Watch.

“What we’re looking for is what an individual and teams of individuals have done that’s far in excess of what they’re paid to perform. So, they use an innovation that really adds a lot of value, serves the public better, improves the quality of services and impacts the community in a very demonstrable way that creates tremendous amount of cost savings as well.”

He says the idea is to reward government workers who don’t always get extra pay when they do a good job.

“It’s about recognizing and elevating the human spirit and then making sure we produce the best public service possible and raise the standard of productivity of innovation so that two, three, five years from now what’s seen as extraordinary should be ordinary.”

The Florida Tax Watch reward program has been going on each year since 1989. The group is better known for its research into government spending and advocacy for lower taxes.

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