CLEARWATER – As spring break kicked off into high gear this week, Clearwater officials are taking steps to make sure beachgoers stay safe during the peak tourist season.
Lt. Anthony Monte, district commander with Clearwater Police Department, beach division, said the department has implemented its annual spring break deployment plan that includes increased resources and educational outreach to residents and tourists alike.
“Each year as we approach spring break, we always have a plan in place for the larger crowds,” Monte said, adding that department officials research spring breaks for local and state schools in an effort to make appropriate plans accordingly.
Monte said Clearwater Beach will see double the amount of officers from March 4 to March 26 – about 10 officers and two supervisors during the day shift – with additional police aides and technicians on site to help pedestrians and to monitor traffic.
“One of the biggest problems we see at this time is the large amount of traffic,” Monte said. “We get a lot of complaints and intersections tend to back up.”
Pedestrians illegally crossing the street also cause traffic concerns, Monte said.
To help combat this, traffic aides and technicians will be stationed at crosswalks to help mitigate problems and specialty teams from traffic enforcement and the downtown bike team and three school resource officers will be utilized throughout the break.
Last year, in an effort to help ease traffic congestion on the beach, the city added decorative fencing along Coronado Drive and Mandalay Avenue as a means to prevent jaywalking. In addition, the crosswalks at Hooters and the location of the soon-to-be renovated Crabby Bill’s, which were unlighted, were removed as a way to force pedestrians to cross the roadway at traffic lights.
This, unfortunately, has led to some pedestrians trying to cross at the roundabout, which has led to additional traffic concerns, Monte said.
“A lot of people don’t know where to cross at this point,” Monte said. “Our plan is to utilize police aides at the roundabout to provide education to pedestrians.”
The city has also recently funded a park-and-ride program in partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority that provides free rides to the beach from downtown Clearwater for free.
The seven-day-a-week plan will allow travelers to take the trolley to the beach free of charge, but they would have to arrange to pay for a ride back on the trolley, ferry or a ride share company.
Monte said it was too early in the season to see what affect this program will have on beach traffic and congestion.
Monte does have a few tips for beachgoers looking to hit the sugar sand of Clearwater Beach in the coming weeks.
The first is to remember the city’s strict no alcohol tolerance on the beach.
“Bringing alcohol to Clearwater Beach will not be tolerated,” Monte said.
Doing so can result in a $118 citation and a possible arrest.
“We want college kids, high school kids to come out and have a great time, enjoy the beach,” Monte said. “But follow the rules.”
Monte also recommends researching parking options before you head to the beach as lots often fill up before 10 a.m.
“The key is to get here early,” Monte said. “If you come around noon, you can expect to be stuck in traffic for an hour.
“It’s always a good idea to preplan your trip to Clearwater Beach,” he added.
Logan Mosby is editor of the Clearwater Beacon. She can be reached at lmosby@TBNweekly.com or by calling 727-397-5563, ext. 304.