Gulf Boulevard safety

Indian Rocks Beach and county officials are discussing ways to improve safety on Gulf Boulevard. 

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — County and city officials with help from the community are identifying ways to make Gulf Boulevard safer for bicyclists and pedestrians — one step at a time.

Seeking opinions from the numerous residents who attended a work session Feb. 12, they discussed recommendations from a county pedestrian/bicycle safety study presented to the City Commission in October.

Joan Rice, a county public works department of transportation specialist, said the study from Walsingham Road to the Sand Key Bridge was completed in August 2018. It is a re-evaluation of a 2013 study on the corridor.

“See what works, what doesn’t work,” Rice said.

The city is a partner with the county, City Manager Gregg Mims said.

“So primarily, they want your feedback on everything,” he said.

Some of the recommendations will be further discussed at a commission meeting in April.

Rice discussed modifying existing highway lane modifications to accommodate bicyclists, reducing median widths, installing eight crosswalks and eliminating three, striping crosswalks and adding wayfinding signage.

If all the recommendations were implemented, which appears unlikely, the total cost would be $1.1 million, of which Mims estimated that the city would pay $175,000.

The study’s recommendation to modify 1.8 miles of existing lane widths for standard bike lanes sparked the most objections at the meeting.

“The biggest concern we have heard is Gulf Boulevard is kind of narrow to begin with,” City Commissioner Phil Hanna said.

Commissioner Phil Wrobel expressed similar comments, saying that bicyclists are riding three or four abreast in their lanes along the corridor.

“You make that lane bigger you are going to have them riding five to six. And anybody that drives Gulf Boulevard in the morning that’s sitting here shaking their heads, we all know what happens,” Wrobel said.

Darlene Kavanagh, who lives part time in Indian Rocks Beach, said traffic is slow moving along the highway and making the lanes narrower would make the problem worse.

“If they make the lanes any smaller there would be no room for error. What would you do if you have a tire blow out? Where are you going to go if there is going to be a bike right next to you?” she asked.

Rice also offered assurances that reducing the size of eight medians would not be considered in the near future. County officials may consider the work during the next resurfacing cycle, which is excluded from their five-year plan.

Residents and officials also expressed their views on crosswalks. Barry Eagle, who lives along Gulf Boulevard, suggested that crosswalks be put on streets that have beach access and removed from areas between the streets.

“As far as the crosswalks, everyone knows no one will walk a half a block let alone two blocks to make a crossing to the beach access,” he said.

Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle was in favor of getting rid of mid-block crosswalks.

“No one uses them. They are not useful at all,” he said.

Bert Valery, who helped form the county’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and is still a member, complimented county officials on their work on the study and said it had several good recommendations.

However, he said he was not an advocate of the center crosswalk medians.

“Like other folks have said they are very hard at night to see people crossing in them. They get in them – the lights are blinking. They just disappear on you.”

He suggested that the city have more painted crosswalks going across Gulf Boulevard from the avenues that have enough traffic to warrant them, adding that they work all over the United States.

Also mentioned were the possibility of having crosswalks without the use of the rectangular rapid flashing beacons, which are pedestrian safety devices at crosswalks that have become prevalent in Pinellas County in recent years.

County Traffic Engineering Manager Tom Washburn said the beacons aren’t required but are recommended for Gulf Boulevard, which carries 18,000 vehicles a day.

“Simply putting a crosswalk across the road and expecting a pedestrian to be able to get across basically 40 feet of pavement without any other protection – there is no other level of security whether the striping is there or not. We would recommend the signage with the RRFPs, he said.”

Gulf Boulevard is a county road, Washburn said, but city officials have authority whether to approve recommendations or to make additional ones pertaining to traffic along the corridor in the city limits.

“We are not coming in here saying, ‘This is what we are going to do.’ We are seeking your approval before we do anything,” Washburn said.