Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach gets flashers in crosswalks

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PANAMA CITY BEACH – Flashing lights were installed on pedestrian crossing signs Thursday along Thomas Drive where an Ohio woman and her toddler were hit by a truck on Monday, and at another nearby railroad crossing.

But county officials say the work was planned — long before the crashes — in an effort to improve safety beyond state-required measures on this increasingly busy stretch of coastal highway.

All turn signals had been attached to the panels.

An Ohio woman and her 3-year-old son were walking on the Thomas Drive crosswalk near Hurt Avenue just before 11 a.m. Monday when they were hit by a truck, according to Florida Highway Patrol news releases. They were taken to Ascension Sacred Heart Bay Medical Center with serious injuries. The child’s injuries were listed as life-threatening.

Less than three days later, from midnight Wednesday to Thursday, a 19-year-old man was seriously injured when he was hit by a car while crossing Thomas Drive, according to patrol reports. Soldiers said he would not have seen the oncoming car.

Pedestrian accident:Second pedestrian crash in three days on Thomas Drive leaves man seriously injured

Earlier this week:Mum and 3-year-old hit by lorry while walking on marked crosswalk; both seriously injured

The Florida Department of Transportation reports an annual average of about 10,000 cars using this stretch of highway daily. The numbers are much higher in the summer months, lower in the winter.

“We have considerable tourism along this corridor,” said Keith Bryant, Bay County Infrastructure Manager. “It’s a really nice section of the beach. It’s a busy corridor for our tourist industry.”

Bay County Traffic Sign Technician Juan Caulk braved the scorching sun as he straightened the crosswalk sign on Thomas Drive at Hurt Street Thursday afternoon.  He added turn signals to signs as part of the county plan to help keep pedestrians safe.  Lori Steineck / The Herald of News

“Bay County continues to set tourism records every year, and while that’s good for our economy, it also means more traffic on the roads,” he said.

“We are also seeing much more distracted driving with people on the phone instead of paying attention to the road, and some of these drivers also seem unaware that every time a pedestrian enters a crosswalk they are being held by the law to stop.”

Pedestrians have priority

Florida law provides that pedestrians inside a crosswalk have the right of way where no traffic light or sign says otherwise.

Over the years, the county has installed signs, streetlights and crosswalks, widened bike lanes and built sidewalks on both sides of the road, he said.

County workers also installed flashing lights or “beacons,” which totaled about $150,000.

This is one of twelve pedestrian crossing signs that will flash, warning drivers to exercise caution as pedestrians may be on foot.

Bryant said the stretch of Thomas from Joan Avenue east to Bristol Street has about a dozen crossings.

Five flashing lights were already in place at the crossings before the collisions. Five more are planned and two more were being installed this week – one in Hurt where the woman and her son were struck and the other in Biltmore.

Previous pedestrian accidents

Thomas Drive was the scene of four pedestrian crashes and two crashes involving bicycles in the past three years, from June 8, 2019, to Wednesday, county records show.

None of them happened in crosswalk areas, Bryant said.

Incidents involving bicycles resulted in more serious injuries.

  • On April 23, 2019, a cyclist who had no light and later tested positive for drug use died when he stopped in the path of a vehicle at 11:57 p.m., records show. County. This person died of his injuries.
  • A few months later, on June 7, a cyclist suffered “potentially serious injuries” at the fault of a motor vehicle driver.

Three of the four were hit-and-runs. All of the victims in the four cases were injured, but their injuries were described as non-disabling.

The two most recent injury crashes involving pedestrians were more serious.

All three victims – the mother and son from Ohio in one accident and the 19-year-old man from Kentucky in the other – were taken to area hospitals.

Their terms were not disclosed.

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