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Las Olas Boulevard: Pedestrian Death Trap? Light-Up LED Crosswalk May Slow Traffic

Sixty-five year-old Carolyn Bianco was crossing Las Olas Boulevard at Southeast 11th Avenue on her way to an evening jazz concert when a person driving a black SUV struck her and kept going. Bianco was rushed to Broward General Medical Center, but the head injury she sustained was too severe. She died seven days later.

Exactly two weeks after her death, 53 year-old Douglas Allen de Boer was crossing Las Olas Boulevard at Southeast Second Avenue (less than a mile away from Bianco's accident) when a pick-up truck hit him. He sustained a severe head injury, broke multiple bones, and punctured a lung. De Boer was also rushed to Broward General Medical Center. He died five hours later.

That was almost four years ago, and while two pedestrian deaths in two weeks is uncommon, merchants along that stretch of Las Olas Boulevard have been protesting to implement crosswalks for years before those tragedies occurred. Today there are still no official crosswalks between 11th and 15th Avenue but a first-of-its-kind $62,000 LED-lit crosswalk is going to be installed in the next few months with the intention of saving lives.

Robin Merrill carries a bag full of rocks whenever she crosses Las Olas Boulevard. At the time of Bianco's accident, Merrill was inside her shop less than a block away when she rushed outside to help. After witnessing an alarming disregard towards pedestrian safety from drivers and county officials, Merrill claims a bag full of rocks is the only thing she has to protect herself as she walks the the four lanes across Las Olas Boulevard. She swings her homemade nunchuck at cars that whiz past her at dangerous speeds and actually strikes the ones that come within arm's length. "I know it isn't right, whacking a car with a bag of rocks, but it shouldn't have come to this," Merrill concedes bitterly.

Merrill runs the Upper Room Art Gallery that was once located at 1200 Las Olas Boulevard. A year after the March 2010 accidents, she crossed Las Olas Boulevard on her way to the deli across the street for dinner one evening. Since there is no light or crosswalk, Merrill had to cross the old fashioned way: looking left, right, left. She was already in the middle of the street when she noticed the bus driver revving up and speeding towards her. In the other two lanes, cars zipped by in a whoosh. She was trapped in the center of the road playing a game that must have looked like human Frogger from above. At that moment the adrenaline pulsed through her, and her first thought she remembers was of her then 14- and eight year-old sons and how they were at home eating the dinner she left for them in the fridge completely unaware that their mother was almost run over by a bus. ("I hit that bus with the bag [of rocks] and it made a loud noise, I know people on that bus heard it and saw it," Merrill adds.)

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson

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