Florida Keys News
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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Crosswalk concerns ongoing

KEY LARGO -- If there are people on the island who are happy with the pedestrian crosswalk installed on U.S. 1 at mile marker 99.7, they are among a silent few.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has taken the most publicly aggressive stance against the walkway, which uses flashing amber lights to alert motorists to pedestrians. He calls the crosswalk dangerous and says it is only a matter of time before it claims its first victim.

A crash occurred two weeks ago at the crosswalk when a motorist struck a car that had stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the highway. The collision caused a chain reaction that damaged four cars and sent one driver to the hospital with minor injuries. The pedestrians were not injured.

"No one asked us," Ramsay said of the crosswalk's placement. "If they would have, I would have told them not to put it in one of the most congested areas in the Keys."

Officials from the Florida Department of Transportation, which installed the crosswalk in April as part of a U.S. 1 repaving and widening project, have told the Free Press they are reviewing the decision.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said she intends to sit down with FDOT officials to address local concerns.

"Personally, I think it's dangerous," she said, noting an intersection with red lights at mile marker 99.4 provides pedestrians with a safer crossing. "There's more than one way to skin a cat."

The Key Largo Federation of Homeowner Associations, which sent a letter to FDOT in 2010 asking for a crosswalk between mile markers 99 and 100, has been relatively quiet since its installment.

Monroe County Planning Commissioner Ron Miller, who was then president of the homeowner's association, did not return phone messages last week seeking comment. Neither did current president Dottie Moses or Kay Thacker, who has also served in the leadership of the association.

Thacker, however, issued a statement Sunday evening saying that the federation asked FDOT for pedestrian crosswalks after Key Largo residents participating in a Monroe County community master plan process requested them, and that crosswalk placement is determined by FDOT experts based on past accident locations.

The new crosswalk is located near the busy Port Largo Canal area, where several oceanside hotels, restaurants and fishing and diving attractions are located. On the bayside of the highway are local merchants and fast food restaurants.

As for any benefit the crosswalk brings to the immediate area, a bayside dive shop owner says there is none.

Rob Mitchell, owner of Keys Diver, said he is telling his Port Largo hotel customers not to use the crosswalk.

"We will just deal with them over at the dock if they aren't able to drive across," said Mitchell, who says he has witnessed several near accidents at the crosswalk, which sits in front of his dive shop.

"I burn when I think about this crosswalk," Mitchell said. "FDOT should be accountable and should be charged with involuntary manslaughter when someone gets killed."

Mitchell, however, does support having a second crosswalk in the area due to the high level of the pedestrian traffic across the highway.

His solution is to turn the yellow light to red to force the automotive traffic to stop.

"Even if residents know to stop, who is going to tell the four million visitors we get every year to stop?" Mitchell said. "Everyone in the world knows red means stop."

Ramsay, though, disagrees with the need for a second crossing.

"Accidents there are because of poor lighting and intoxicated pedestrians," Ramsay said in reference to prior collisions in that location. "There is another light 600 feet away they can walk to."

The sheriff said he doesn't believe drivers are required to stop when the yellow light is flashing.

"The burden lies with the pedestrian," Ramsay said. "If they cross the path even while it is lit and get hit by a car, I believe they would be at fault."

Ramsay said he has received differing opinions from FDOT officials about crosswalk usage rules.

"I have never seen anything like this," he said. "Amber doesn't mean stop."

jgore@keysnews.com

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