SATTELLITE BEACH ― The Jan. 15 Satellite Beach regular city council meeting was somber following the death of 12-year-old resident Sophia Grace. Sophia, while attempting to cross A-1-A on Dec. 22 with family members, was struck by a vehicle.
She was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando where she was placed on life-support. On Christmas, she passed away, but not without one last altruistic act: donating her organs.
"My children go to the same school as [her]. It's been pretty rough. It was a pretty rough holiday," Mindy Gibson, councilwoman, said. "My heart goes out to [the family]. I've expressed anything we can do for them as a community, we're here for them as humans and as government officials."
Many in the community have blamed the choice of the Rapid Flashing Beacon crosswalk equipment. Residents have since urged city officials to make changes to the present crosswalks.
When a pedestrian prepares to cross, the crosswalk indicators will repeatedly flash yellow lights, indicating a motorist to stop before the crosswalk. However, some have wondered why yellow and not red?
"We held a minimum of five city meetings in our town, got the notes from these meetings. They were set up as workshops so people could come and give their opinions about the crosswalks," said Frank Catino, Mayor of Satellite Beach.
With a growing population and ongoing beach visitors, many different suggestions were offered during various planning meetings. Plans to build more sidewalks were denied, citing limited space. The same was said for widening A-1-A from a two-lane to four-lane road.
Some portions of the plan, however, didn't include the latest crosswalk systems which utilize red blinking lights as opposed to yellow.
"I asked them at that time, the city manager was with me, why? Why do we not have the latest and greatest equipment? The word to us? Your road does not warrant that type of system," Mayor Catino said.
At the March 6, 2019 city council meeting, Mayor Catino inquired as to the availability of the red-flashing beacons. Courtney Barker, city manager, stated that it was already too late - as they were beginning to install the yellow-light flashing beacons.
"The mayor was right when he said the lights should be red," said Daniel Willemin, Satellite Beach resident.
Mr. Willemin, along with others, organized a protest on A-1-A to spread awareness for Sophia.
On Jan. 3, Mayor Catino sent a three page letter to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), urging them to consider improvements on A-1-A. Some points the mayor touched on included lowering the speed limit, full traffic light installation at A-1-A and Roosevelt Avenue and the addition of the red-light component to the beacon lights.
Although the mayor acknowledged the diligent planning and studies that went into the installation, he conveyed the communities wariness of their function.
"Initially, we had many people upset with the new crosswalks," wrote Mayor Catino in his letter to FDOT. "However, after time and education through enforcement and the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization educational campaign the, crosswalks have been well-used, especially on the weekends when there is heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic to and from the beach accesses and parks."
Despite their usage, many residents found a lack of proper training and education problematic on the Rapid Flashing Beacon months into their installation. Residents feared the newly installed crosswalks would prove dangerous.
"Even so, the community has consistently expressed concern with the fact that some cars just do not stop for the pedestrians, even with the lights," Mayor Catino wrote.
Meanwhile, at the Jan. 15 meeting, Satellite Beach resident, Dale Abrams, spoke about the planning meetings she attended and produced a study done by Quentin L. Hampton Associates, Inc. Consulting Engineers. In the April 8, 2014 SR A-1-A Redevelopment Traffic Safety Conceptual Engineering Plan, the report finds "ample available FDOT right of way area to construct the sidewalk".
The report also recommends lowering the speed limit from 45 mph to 40 mph.
"I'd like to see more enforcement on A-1-A, more tickets written to folks who don't stop," said Mr. Willemin
The city of Satellite Beach and local lawmakers will continue to look into possible solutions for a safer A-1-A.
For more information, call 321-773-4407 or visit www.satellitebeach.org