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Palm Coast Tuesday, Mar. 14, 2017 1 year ago

Residents push for more street lights after teenager is struck and killed walking after dark

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The death of 16-year-old Matanzas student Michelle Taylor prompted Palm Coast residents to complain to their elected representatives.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The death of Matanzas student Michelle Taylor, 16, prompted residents to complain to their elected representatives about pedestrian safety issues.

After a car struck and killed 16-year-old Michelle Taylor as she walked alongside a local road, many Palm Coast residents agreed that something needs to be done. A change.org petition, titled “Increased Street & Traffic Lights in Palm Coast, FL,” had 1,238 signatures as of March 14. It’s the second safety-related petition in two years here; another was started in 2015 after a 7-year-old was killed at a bus stop on the other side of town.

A dark area

The stretch of Lakeview Boulevard Taylor was walking on the night of March 2 isn’t lighted, and there’s no sidewalk. A Florida Highway Patrol investigator wrote in a report that the driver of the car that struck her couldn’t see her because she was wearing dark clothing, and “due to the area being very dark.” 

The city has long had a plan to add a multi-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists there, but it hasn’t been built. The proposed pathway would extend an existing path that ends at La Mancha Drive — a few blocks north of Matanzas Woods Parkway — north through the dark, wooded stretch where Taylor was killed and up to London Drive.

The Florida Department of Transportation has approved a grant to fund it, and it’s in FDOT’s budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The city is about 30% done with the process of designing the pathway.

Residents have tried to tell the city that the area needed attention. “Sidewalks are desperately needed in L section particularly along Lakeview,” one person wrote in the city’s citizens survey Feb. 23. “Our location seems to be the forgotten area of Palm Coast. We still are without sidewalks on Lakeview,” wrote another, on Feb. 22.

Others, both before and after Taylor’s death, have complained about the lack of street lighting in Palm Coast roads that aren’t major traffic corridors. 

Many Palm Coast neighborhoods weren’t structured with young families in mind, and adding them now, in many cases, would be a complicated project, requiring reconstruction of swales and stormwater drainage systems.

But streetlights are easier to install. Why, many residents asked, has the road where Taylor died — Lakeview Boulevard — been left so dark for so long?

Plans for Lakeview

Palm Coast used to have a continuous street lighting program designed to eliminate such dark spots, but it was cut by a previous City Council during the economic downturn. 

“We do not have any funding for restoring the continuous street lights program in our current budget, but our new City Council has indicated this is an area they would like to have funded again,” city spokeswoman Cindi Lane wrote in an email to the Palm Coast Observer. 

Lakeview hadn’t been a priority area for the continuous street lights program. The area next in line for lighting was Belle Terre south. But, Lane said, Lakeview could be added.

The city is about to start a street lighting master study, she said, that will inform how the city proceeds on street lighting issues. 

There’s also a program to allow citizens to request the installation of streetlights, and about 20 lights are added each year because of such requests.  

But those light requests have to meet special criteria, and the area Taylor was killed would not have met them. The requests must fall into one of two categories. There’s “general street lighting,” used to illuminate intersections or entrances to facilities, but not for the purpose of illuminating the road for pedestrians or for vehicular traffic. The second category is for higher wattage “special street lighting,” which can be installed at citizens requests for traffic safety purposes — but only to illuminate intersections, areas such as bus stops where large group of people gather after dark, or crosswalks where there is frequent night-time pedestrian traffic.

There’s no way to request a streetlight through the program for a stretch of road where there’s no intersection, bus stop or crosswalk, simply because it’s dark. 

In the meantime, Lane said, the city is adding street lights, pathways and other safety features whenever it undertakes new road projects, like the six-laning of Palm Coast Parkway. 

Schools’ role

The Flagler County School District, which mobilized to improve street safety after 7-year-old Kymora Christian was struck and killed at a bus stop in 2015, might also restart a pedestrian safety instruction initiative. 

School Board member Andy Dance helped lead that initiative, which had two components — working with the city to identity problem bus stops and improve them with lighting and concrete pads, and an educational component spearheaded by student Future Problem Solvers groups to educate students about pedestrian safety. 

“I think part of the education campaign is helping students understand that ... if lighting conditions are low, making sure they are walking on the right side of the street, have reflective clothing on,” Dance said. 

The district may revive that educational program by tying it to a School District wellness plan that the School Board will vote on in the future, Dance said. 

 

 

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