Crosswalk violators get expensive surprise
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 9:18 a.m.
Two police officers dressed in civilian clothes tried to cross Northwest 13th Street with the hesitancy of someone dipping their toe in a pool.
Some drivers let them cross the busy road early Monday morning. Others rolled through the crosswalk as the officer, in a black shirt and jeans, stood there.
A short way down the road, a Gainesville Police officer wearing a bright yellow reflector vest greeted them with staccato whistle blasts as he waved them into a parking lot.
One by one, each received a $154 citation and a potential three points on their driver's license during the special detail in front of Gainesville High School. At this location and later at St. Patrick Interparish School, at 550 NE 16 Ave., the officers wrote 74 citations for not yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk.
Sgt. Joe Raulerson, head of the GPD traffic safety unit, said the Pedestrian High Visibility Enforcement Program is able to conduct operations like this because of a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. He said the department plans to do a couple of these a month at different locations around the city, but he has no more planned for this week.
He indicated this emphasis is in response to recent accidents involving pedestrians being struck while in crosswalks, including two young adults who were hit on Feb. 12 on Southwest 62nd Boulevard.
The stops will be set up around high-traffic areas, especially around schools.
“The goal is for everyone to yield for pedestrians so we don't have to write any citations,” Raulerson said.
Gainesville city commissioners have increased their concern of pedestrian safety, especially on Southwest 62nd Boulevard.
“We can have meetings and committees and on and on but something must be done right now. Period,” said Todd Chase, Gainesville city commissioner, in an email to Russ Blackburn, Gainesville city manager.
“I take it personally,” Raulerson said.
In the past, Raulerson said his team cited 70 drivers in one day on Southwest 62nd Boulevard. When he was there on Friday, he only cited five drivers.
“That's a good day,” he said.
The system is to have two plainclothes officers alternate crossing the street every five to 10 minutes while one officer takes notes and radios to other officers down the road on whose day to ruin.
Some officers on Monday waited more than 30 seconds before a driver would stop for them.
Those who drove through the crosswalk may have thought they were clear, until an officer stepped out into the road and directed them into a parking lot where another group of officers waited to cite them.
GPD uses the parking lots of businesses that normally aren't open yet. On Monday, it used Mattress Town's parking lot until 10 a.m.
When Ron Noel, sales manager at Mattress Town, came into work early, his boss told him to let the officers follow their protocol.
At about 10 a.m., Noel said he needed to ask the officers to leave.
This is the third time in about a year and a half officers have used the store's parking lot because it is so close to Gainesville High School, he said.
The procedures are standardized and used around the country. Orlando, Pinellas County, Volusia County and others use the same structure.
After seeing how effective they were in Pinellas County, Gainesville will install rapid flash beacons into the roadway on Southwest 62 Boulevard.
Raulerson said Gainesville Regional Utilities and Gainesville Regional Transit are working with GPD to install light poles to power the flashing signs and other ways of keeping pedestrians safe. The City of Gainesville Public Works will be responsible for their installation.
“We're all here for the same cause,” he said.
He said in the past five years, crashes in Gainesville have gone down by 35 percent.
“One fatal crash is too many,” Raulerson said.