SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. – Lower the State Road A1A speed limit and install HAWK pedestrian-activated red-light signals at crosswalks to better catch the eyes of distracted drivers, Satellite Beach Mayor Frank Catino argues.
Friday morning, Catino sent a three-page letter to the Florida Department of Transportation and a variety of Space Coast officials, lobbying for SR A1A safety improvements in the wake of a 12-year-old Satellite Beach girl’s death, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
In spring 2019, FDOT installed pedestrian-activated yellow flashing lights at Satellite Beach mid-block crosswalks at Grant Avenue, Ellwood Avenue, Royal Palm Boulevard, Magellan Avenue, Sunrise Avenue and Volunteer Way.
But three days before Christmas, Sophia Nelson, a Surfside Elementary sixth grader who was walking home from the beach, was struck by a vehicle in the Ellwood Avenue crosswalk. Nelson never regained brain function after the impact — and on Christmas, she donated organs to four recipients at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.
In his letter, Catino asked FDOT to:
• Reduce the SR A1A speed limit in Satellite Beach.
Thursday afternoon, Catino, Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker, Florida Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, and Brevard County Commissioner Curt Smith participated in a conference call with FDOT officials.
"Debbie and I were adamant that they need to lower the speed limit to 35, as opposed to 45," Smith said.
• Research installing red-light crosswalk signals.
In his letter, Catino said many Satellite Beach residents feel drivers have difficulty stopping in time at the yellow-beacon crosswalks — or they "just ignore the lights altogether."
“While some feel this is also due to the speeds in which drivers are using on this roadway and/or distracted driving, the request for the red lights is, without a doubt, the most common request we are hearing from our community,” Catino wrote.
• Add crosswalk signs that warn pedestrians to wait until cars have stopped before crossing.
In addition, road signs near the Pineda Causeway and southern city limits could alert drivers to prepare to stop at numerous crosswalks ahead.
• Fill in stretches of missing sidewalks along the west side of SR A1A.
"It infuriates me that that hasn't been done yet. Because there's big gaps in the sidewalk system on the west side. So people will walk in ditches or on the bike path — right on the road," Barker said.
"It's just not right. We're a beach town. There's heavy pedestrian, bicycle and golf cart use over here," she said.
Catino’s letter also requested a full traffic signal at the intersection of SR A1A and Roosevelt Avenue, near Chabad Jewish Community Center. The city requested a full intersection here in 2014 and 2019, but was denied, he wrote.
The Satellite Beach City Council will discuss a crosswalk enforcement plan during its Jan. 15 meeting. Catino also called for a traffic safety workshop by the third week of January involving FDOT, Brevard’s beachside cities and towns, county officials and state legislators.
The Satellite Beach police crash investigation into Nelson's death remains ongoing. In his letter, Catino said the investigation may take up to 90 days to complete.
The tragedy has triggered emotion in close-knit Satellite Beach. On Dec. 28, nearly 100 people attended a sign-waving demonstration at the Ellwood Avenue crosswalk, protesting the yellow-flashing beacons as unsafe and confusing.
The following night, hundreds of mourners gathered at Pelican Beach Park for a candlelight vigil in Nelson’s memory.
Developed during the late 1990s in Tucson, Arizona, HAWK crosswalk signals are listed as "experimental" on the FDOT pedestrian facilities website. In October, FDOT finished installing five HAWK mid-block crossing beacons on North Roosevelt Boulevard in Key West.
Here's how they work: After a pedestrian pushes a button, the HAWK signal starts flashing yellow to alert motorists to slow down. After a few seconds, the signal shifts to a solid yellow light.
Then a steady red light appears. That's when pedestrians and bicyclists are supposed to cross, after looking to make sure that traffic has stopped.
The signal later shifts to flashing red lights, which indicate that drivers can proceed with caution if the crosswalk is clear. Afterward, the beacon lights go dark.
In an ongoing $1.1 million project, FDOT is installing a dozen raised concrete mid-block crosswalks — equipped with yellow flashing lights — from Indian Harbour Beach southward to Indialantic. Lane closures are expected to continue along this 3.8-mile zone through the early part of the new year.
Future mid-block crosswalk locations:
• South of Second Avenue
• North of Watson Drive
• North of Niemara Avenue
• North of Flug Avenue
• North of Boskind Road
• North of Del Flora Street
• South of Terrace Shores Drive
• North of Pine Tree Drive
• North of Poinsetta Street
• South of Harris Boulevard
• South of Coral Way
• South of Atlantic Boulevard (near Millennium Beach Park)
"FDOT is trying to reprogram drivers' minds that yellow isn't caution — yellow is stop. And they're conveying the thought process that (if) people push a button, they're free to walk across that road," Smith said.
“Drivers know red lights. They don’t know yellow lights mean stop. I just think personally that those flashing yellow lights need to go away. And the HAWK system needs to be installed,” he said.
Barker said Satellite Beach officials have asked FDOT to lower SR A1A speed limits since 1991, to no avail. She said they renewed their effort in 2014 while state engineers were planning the ongoing $10 million-plus major redesign of the beachside highway between the Pineda Causeway and Indialantic, but the matter remains under study.
“We just refuse the notion that we need to even study it at all. We just need to get it done, and decreased to 35,” Barker said.
FDOT released the following statement on Friday night:
"The Department has had extensive coordination with local partners and stakeholders in implementing pedestrian safety improvements along the State Road (S.R.) A1A corridor. We appreciate the community’s partnership and will continue focusing on future opportunities to improve safety. We understand the urgency and will continue very close coordination as we evaluate the recommendations being brought forth by all parties.