ST. PETERSBURG BEACH, Fla. — After an accident in St. Pete Beach that killed a 70-year-old man and injured four others crossing the street, ABC Action News took an in-depth look at Gulf Blvd.
"Over the last 10 to 15 years, we've made a difference," Executive Director of Forward Pinellas Whit Blanton said.
With Blanton at the helm, "Forward Pinellas" has made many safety improvements around the county, and specifically at Gulf Blvd. But after Thursday night's hit and run, he said the corridor may need some re-evaluation.
"It makes me feel like we've got a problem here in Pinellas County that we need to work on," Blanton said.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office provided ABC Action News with data of their responses at or near the St. Pete Beach access point. Since May 2019, deputies have handled eight cases where cars have hit pedestrians.
- 5/25/19 - Gulf Blvd. & 52nd Ave. W.
- 6/6/19 - Gulf Blvd.
- 2/24/20 - Gulf Blvd. & 46th Ave.
- 5/5/20 - Gulf Blvd. & 44th Ave.
- 2/5/21 - Gulf Blvd. & 46th Ave.
- 2/26/21 - Gulf Blvd. & 69th Ave.
- 3/9/21 - Gulf Blvd. & Gulf Winds Dr.
- 4/6/21 - Gulf Blvd. & 50th Ave. E.
In 2018, ABC Action News reported the county was looking at ways to make Gulf Blvd safer for beachgoers. But the new crosswalks that leaders promised are nowhere near the accidents documented by PSO. Instead, they are about 14 miles north of the area. And Thursday's fatal accident happened at what's called a full signal crossing, which Blanton said, is typically the safest.
"That's just a failure on the motorist part to yield the right of way to the legal right of the pedestrian to be in the crosswalk," he said.
Blanton said in cases like these, increasing penalties for drivers would be ideal, but Florida legislators have stalled that effort.
"It's filed every year. It never goes anywhere," Blanton said.
And efforts by law enforcement are helpful in the moment, but miss the mark because of who tends to be in this area.
"Enforcement is really meant to modify behavior over time," Blanton said. "But if they're here for a week and then you give them a ticket or whatever, and they go back to Ohio then you're not modifying their behavior on these roadways."
Even with pending improvements and current safety measures, Pinellas County deputies say the best thing you can do is stay alert.
"Roadways are always a dangerous place. And when you're, whether you're on a bicycle, whether you're a pedestrian driving in a vehicle, we always want everybody to be alert. Keep your head on a swivel," Cpl. Travis Sibley said.
Blanton said Thursday's accident happened on a part of Gulf Blvd. that's state-owned. But if city or county leaders have safety concerns, they can bring them to the Florida Department of Transportation. Blanton told ABC Action News "Forward Pinellas" had a couple of meetings with St. Pete Beach leaders to brainstorm ideas to make Gulf Blvd. safer.