BELLEAIR BEACH – Pedestrian safety and beautification issues affecting its major thoroughfare were addressed at the Belleair Beach Sept. 4 City Council meeting.
The council agreed to consider a program to upgrade crosswalks on Gulf Boulevard sponsored and totally funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The plan would improve existing crosswalks by the installation of raised refuge islands, upgraded signage, addition of “PED XING” pavement markings, pedestrian detection buttons, and rectangular rapid flashing beacons. Also included was the rebuilding of damaged sidewalks and segments with tripping hazards.
Similar improvements have already been made in Indian Rocks Beach and are being undertaken by FDOT all along Gulf Boulevard, Mayor Rob Baldwin said. Council Member Wanda Schwerer said consistency in the crosswalks up and down Gulf Boulevard would improve pedestrian safety.
But Council Member John Pietrowski, who was absent from the meeting, said in an email note that some of the recommendations would create problems. Pietrowski opposed adding any signs or raised islands in the middle turn lane, saying that would add problems for people making left turns into streets and driveways.
“Homeowners would have to go past their driveways or street and turn around, which is dangerous,” Pietrowski said.
Belleair Beach does not have a high volume of pedestrian traffic like St. Pete Beach, and the city’s present crosswalks work sufficiently well, he said.
“It’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Pietrowski said.
Council Members David Dumville and Jeril Cohen said they agreed with Pietrowski, especially on the raised islands issue. Dumville said putting islands in the turn lane would impede turning and access to homes along Gulf Boulevard. In the event of a hurricane, evacuation would be hindered.
“We should not interfere with motorists’ ability to turn,” Dumville said.
He also said flashing lights at the crosswalks do not stop traffic.
Cohen said, “I don’t see the need for anything raised that impedes traffic.”
Vice Mayor Leslie Notaro and Council Member Mitch Krach said the FDOT program made sense and is fully funded.
“I like the idea of upgraded crosswalks along Gulf Boulevard. Consistency is important,” Notaro said.
Krach said he would hate to turn down the FDOT program, especially if it can be done in conjunction with the county’s beautification plan for Gulf Boulevard.
“Take the money,” Krach advised.
Cohen wanted to know if the city could opt out of the raised median islands.
The FDOT program is a concept only at this point and the participating communities will have a lot to say about the final implementation, Mayor Baldwin said.
Baldwin said he had mixed feelings about the entire program being proposed. But “the crosswalks give an expectation of safety and we need to make them as safe as possible.”
The council voted 6-1 to consider the FDOT pedestrian safety program. Dumville was opposed.
Pietrowski, who also opposed the program, was absent. Cohen’s “yes” vote was on the condition the raised medians could be eliminated.
In another move to improve Gulf Boulevard, council agreed to the formation of a Gulf Boulevard Safety and Beautification Committee. Its lifespan will run until 2019, when county funding for beautification of the boulevard runs out.
The committee’s purpose is to “serve as an advisory body to advise the council on all matters relating to the county’s plan to fund the beautification and safety needs of Gulf Boulevard” within Belleair Beach.
Mayor Baldwin will chair the committee, which also will consist of Council members Notaro and Krach, and residents Joseph Burke, Joseph Ford and Edward Soter.
The council also authorized the Community Services Director Allen Godfrey to get bids to hire a consultant who will advise the committee on design of the Gulf Boulevard beautification project.
“We want to spruce it up, and we need someone to put together a good design plan,” Godfrey said.
A key element will be the installation of bicycle racks at the beach accesses, which Godfrey said are planned to have decorative features and some landscaping. The racks also will help the city meet parking space requirements needed to gain future beach nourishments.