MELBOURNE, Fla. – Flashing-yellow crosswalk beacons along State Road A1A put pedestrians in danger, Melbourne City Councilman Mark LaRusso argues — and political will to remove them from the Space Coast is like "a snowball rolling down a hill right now."
“We are on such a momentum to stop this madness — absolute madness — with these crosswalks,” LaRusso, who lives in beachside Melbourne, said during the Jan. 14 City Council meeting, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
"I don't know who the hell invented this, but it's horrible. It's terrible. Terrible," LaRusso said.
Conceptually, Melbourne council members voiced support for Florida Rep. Randy Fine's House Bill 1371, known as the "Turn the Flashing Yellow Crosswalks Red" bill, during their meetings Jan. 14 and Tuesday.
However — though they heaped criticism on pedestrian-activated, yellow-beacon crosswalks — council members stopped short of a formal resolution supporting Fine's bill, citing unintended consequences.
If adopted, Fine’s bill would require all Florida flashing-yellow crosswalks not located at road intersections to either be equipped with pedestrian-activated red lights or removed by 2024.
Existing mid-block crosswalks don’t meet standards for extra safety equipment
Melbourne officials said many of the city's 53 mid-block crosswalks in various neighborhoods would not meet Florida Department of Transportation qualifications for extra safety equipment or pedestrian-activated red lights. So they would have to be removed.
To that end, Councilwoman Debbie Thomas feared the city could have to take out the flashing-yellow crosswalk at Melbourne High on Babcock Street and the crosswalks at Holmes Regional Medical Center. City Manager Shannon Lewis said she will reach out to FDOT officials, Fine's office and other legislators, and City Hall staffers will monitor the bill’s progress in Tallahassee.
Crosswalk criticism growing
Crosswalk criticism has accelerated across the Space Coast in response to the Christmas season death of Surfside Elementary sixth-grader Sophia Nelson in Satellite Beach.
Nelson was struck by a vehicle Dec. 22 at the SR A1A flashing-yellow crosswalk at Ellwood Avenue, near her home. She never regained brain function — and on Christmas afternoon, she donated organs to four recipients at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.
• Three weeks ago, the Brevard County Commission asked FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault via letter to remove yellow flashing light crosswalks from Brevard roads.
• In a similar letter to FDOT, Satellite Beach Mayor Frank Catino called for a lower SR A1A speed limit and research on installing red-light crosswalk signals.
• Then the Satellite Beach City Council voted to hire two additional police officers and a dispatcher to increase traffic enforcement patrols.
‘Somebody’s going to get killed’
Melbourne City Councilman Tim Thomas recalled the tragic death of Gavin Imes, 11, who was fatally struck by a truck in December 2017 at the Sherwood Elementary flashing-yellow crosswalk on Post Road.
"I'll tell you what: This crosswalk right out here in front of the City Hall? That is a disaster," Thomas said Jan. 14, pointing toward Strawbridge Avenue from the dais.
"Somebody's going to get killed. It's just a matter of time," he said.
Councilwoman Yvonne Minus agreed Tuesday, saying she watched pedestrians struggling at the crosswalk before the meeting began.
“People were trying to cross from the garage — and they were playing chicken. Some people did not stop. It’s still very dangerous," Minus said.
Crews installed the Melbourne City Hall "rectangular rapid flashing beacon" in July 2015 to help pedestrians walk between the public parking garage and the New Haven Avenue shopping district. Former Assistant City Manager Amy Elliott had been struck by a car and injured in the crosswalk during her lunch hour five years earlier.
That was Brevard County's second yellow-light-equipped crosswalk. FDOT installed the first in January 2015 at Yellow Dog Café on U.S. 1 in Malabar. A Palm Bay couple in their 70s had been killed by a car two years earlier while crossing the highway to reach the riverfront restaurant for dinner.
Yellow Dog Café was FDOT’s first flashing-yellow crosswalk site in a nine-county area across east-central Florida, encompassing Brevard, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.
How many crosswalks have yellow flashing beacons?
Deputy City Manager Jenni Lamb said Melbourne has six crosswalks equipped with yellow flashing beacons; one under construction at the Florida Institute of Technology on University Boulevard; and another 12 in various stages of design, including FDOT projects on Country Club Road and Pineapple Avenue, near Stone Middle School and along the future Southwest Canal Trail system.
Lamb said it could cost the city about $10,000 per crosswalk to conduct a traffic analysis. Estimated cost is $150,000 per crosswalk to install a HAWK pedestrian-activated, red-light beacon system, if FDOT allows.
Ten more flashing-yellow crosswalks are under construction by FDOT along SR A1A between Indian Harbour Beach and Indialantic.
During the Jan. 14 meeting, LaRusso shared a story from Lewis, describing her recent drive along cluttered SR A1A after turning north from Fifth Avenue in Indialantic.
"The construction process going on with Publix. The yellow caution signs for this. The signs that tell you the speed. The other signs that tell you, 'Don't turn here.' All these signs kind of meld into each other," LaRusso said.
“So these crosswalks, all of a sudden, become just part of the landscape,” he said.