MANATEE -- Alarmed by an increasing number of pedestrian deaths, Florida Highway Patrol troopers will be out in force Friday night along U.S. 41, trying to cut down the number of pedestrian-related accidents.
Last year, Manatee County recorded 218 pedestrian-involved crashes, 145 injuries and 12 fatalities, according to a new FHP report.
The report found 83 percent of the fatalities occurred at night or in dark conditions. Two fatal crashes were alcohol-related.
Pedestrians contributed greatly to their own tribulations by failing to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic and jay-walking outside legal crosswalks. A reported 65.5 percent of pedestrian crashes occurred in a non-junction intersection, which is police speak for outside a legal crosswalk.
As part of a three-month detail called "Operation Pedestrians," FHP troopers will try educating walkers, bicyclists and motorists about road safety.
"We'll be monitoring the streets to make sure the pedestrians are using crosswalks and obeying signals," said Lt. Chris Miller of the FHP Bradenton office. "We'll also be looking for cars and watching motorists to make sure they are yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, and also watching for bicyclists without headlights or taillights."
Warnings will be issued mostly for now, Miller said, but eventually citations will be issued instead.
"This is not just about writing tickets," he said. "We're using all our resources to try to keep people safe."
No. 1 among the FHP's targets is the intersection of 53rd Avenue and U.S. 41.
"It's definitely a hot spot for pedestrian crashes," said Miller.
Workers at the Dunkin' Donuts, which sits at the intersection, confirmed his opinion. They said they welcome FHP's efforts.
"They need it, it's so bad," said Yolanda Taylor. "I've seen so many accidents."
Other dangerous intersections prone to crashes include U.S. 41 and Cortez Road, and those along 15th Street East, Miller said.
"We're just trying to get the word out and make as much contact with pedestrians as possible," Miller said. "Our main goal is to reduce the number of pedestrian- and cyclist-related crashes along U.S. 41."
Miller ordered a statistical report from FHP analysts to enable "selective enforcement," he said.
"We're able to look at maps, look for clusters and areas with a high number of crashes, and target our enforcement in those areas, so we're most effective," he said.
On the color map, a cluster of fatalities and accidents appears as red and blue dots heading north from 53rd Avenue along U.S. 41, also known as 14th Street West.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said so many fatalities and injuries mean "the education piece is important."
"Because we see people trying to cross in the middle of the block," Poston said. "They need to cross on the crosswalk. The education piece, we hope will take hold."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.