Conflicting signals make crossing this Gardens intersection hazardous

4:54 p.m Thursday, March 8, 2018 Local
PGA Boulevard and Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens is especially tricky for pedestrians to cross because cars have the green light at the same time the walk signal is flashing. Signs remind drivers to yield.

Harrowing. That’s the one word I would use to describe my experience crossing PGA Boulevard and Military Trail on foot Wednesday.

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I did not jaywalk, nor did I cross against the walk signal. But here’s what makes getting across the street without getting run over so tricky: The walk signals tell pedestrians and bicyclists it’s safe to cross at the same time the traffic lights are green for cars turning right — putting walkers in the path of oncoming traffic.

At this intersection, it’s “look both ways” — twice — before you cross the street.

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If you’re not in a car, you’re at the mercy of the driver who’s sending a text, reading an email or chugging morning coffee whipping around the corner. All you can do is hope the driver doesn’t run over you.

“Turning vehicles yield to pedestrian” signs at three of the four approaches do alert drivers to keep an eye out.

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Crossing outside of the crosswalk is illegal and even more dangerous. A 62-year-old Winthrop, Mass., man died at St. Mary’s Medical Center after he was struck by an SUV about 8 p.m. Feb. 27 while trying to cross North Military Trail in the middle of the block just north of PGA Boulevard.

Florida law says drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians stepping into or already in the crosswalk.

But no driver is going to stay stopped at a green light unless you step into the road, but you have no way of knowing if he or she is going to hit the brakes so they don’t hit you.

The dilemma is out of the city’s control. PGA Boulevard is a state road, and Palm Beach County controls all of the traffic signals. A Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

The county has granted longer all-red signals at crossings with a lot of pedestrian activity and conflicts with right turns on green, according to Mo Al-Turk, the county’s traffic engineering operations manager. The longer red signal allows pedestrians to cross, but it also increases traffic delays.

A Palm Beach Gardens mobility study identified pavers, signage and painted asphalt as ways to improve the pedestrian experience, spokeswoman Candice Temple said.

Although the intersection is obviously mostly used by cars, office workers getting lunch, people picking up a few items at Publix and tourists staying at two nearby hotels navigate it on a regular basis.

I walked counterclockwise around the intersection, using the crosswalks, until I got back to my car in the parking lot of the Garden Square Shoppes. On my final leg, my photo-taking caught the attention of a Sarasota woman who had just crossed the street from the other direction.

We compared notes about getting across the intersection and the delicate dance between drivers and pedestrians in other places that we’ve traveled.

For example, my family takes vacations Bar Harbor, Maine, where people will practically slam on their brakes to let you cross the street. In Italy, however, this woman had been told to just assume the cars won’t stop, even if you have the right of way.

Regional idiosyncrasies only add to the confusion, and with two hotels to the east on either side of PGA Boulevard, transportation officials should clear up the conflicting signals sooner rather than later.