ST. PETE BEACH — It’s just a matter of time before someone walking or bicycling to Gulf Beaches Elementary Magnet School, at 8600 Boca Ciega Drive, gets hit by a speeding motorist, residents told city officials.
During the April 13 City Commission meeting, parents with children who attend the school, and residents living along the two-lane residential roadway between 87th and 75th avenues, said something has to be done to stop speeding motorists before someone gets hurt or killed.
Those who commented during the meeting told commissioners the most reckless speeding drivers are actually parents taking their children to and from school.
A parent of two children at the school, Carrie Ruckdeschel, told commissioners, “We walk or bike-ride to school every day.” She asked her young son to tell commissioners “how often we almost get hit by a car?”
“I almost get hit two or three times a day,” the small boy told commissioners. His mom added, “I was actually surprised by that. We have a really big problem getting to school. Unfortunately the parents at the school … they are mostly the culprits,” she told commissioners.
Ruckdeschel offered some strategies to improve safety. She suggested expanding the school zone to cover a wider area, which might get cars to slow down sooner. “Right now they have no requirement to slow down until they get to the school and make the turn to go into the car circle,” she explained. “That’s one of the main areas where we have problems every day.”
She added there is also no sidewalk from the school to the area near her house, which is about eight blocks away. Another problem is the lack of a crossing guard at the Boca Ciega intersection at the school, she said.
“There are dozens of neighbors and we talk about this every day, when we see each other passing. We really need some infrastructure improvements and safety measures,” Ruckdeschel told the board.
Ron Aries, who lives across the street from the school, said speeding traffic is a big problem along Boca Ciega Drive “not so much now because of construction … but before and, I imagine, afterwards as well, the speeds are quite high.”
He said in the morning, parents may be running late, “so … they’re zipping down the road. The same thing when they pick their children up — they have to get off to soccer or whatever and they zip down. I don’t think it will get any better, and most likely worse. God forbid if we have to wait for someone to have an injury before we do something.”
Longtime resident Phil Smithies told commissioners the issue isn’t new. “Ten to eighteen years ago there was a similar (problem) when Blind Pass was modified, beautified and widened. We had meetings about the problems on Boca Ciega Drive, the traffic, and people using it as a shortcut.
“Although we been through this before … it has escalated, it’s getting worse,” Smithies said. “Once the sewer project finishes … it's going to get worse. Someone will get hurt, I’d like to try and avoid that.”
Mayor Al Johnson replied, “So would we.”
After the public comment portion, Johnson suggested the commission hold a workshop on the issue with area residents, and City Manager Alex Rey concurred. A date for the workshop was not chosen at the meeting and will be announced later.
Don CeSar Place street flooding raised again
Traffic wasn’t the only issue on residents’ minds. After years of Don CeSar Place residents asking the city for relief when it comes to street flooding in their neighborhood, some say they have lost faith that they will ever see a long-term solution to the problem.
“It’s not much fun sitting up late at night looking at the tide charts and watching the water in your street go up or down, wondering if you made the right decision to get (the) car out or you got it locked in. It’s not much fun cleaning up after that and seeing damage to your property,” Don CeSar resident Ken Folsom told commissioners.
“The entire neighborhood, myself included, has sort of not been as active in this, because the problem has gone on for so long, and it’s been so persistent that a large number of the neighborhood has lost faith in the city’s ability to help,” Folsom said. “They’ve just sort have gone, ‘Alright, well, here is something I have to look out for myself.’ And that’s rather sad.”
Johnson asked staff to hold a workshop focusing on this issue as well, so residents can hear the latest plans to control street flooding.
In September 2020 a consultant’s evaluation and conceptual design estimated preliminary construction costs to alleviate street flooding would range from $18.6 million to $25 million, not counting “soft costs” of potential waterfront property acquisition.
A report by HALAFF engineers advised seawalls should be raised 2½ feet, with berms included to prevent tidal flooding from entering onto streets that open directly to the bayou. Currently, open street ends invite tidal flooding and allow frequent inundation of saltwater into the roadway, the report noted.
The report said the plan would be to “button up” open street ends and would involve large drainage pipes and backflow preventers. Some streets would be raised and rainwater would be directed into a mitigation pond at Lazarillo Park.
At that time, Rey said the conceptual plan is more for 2050 or 2060. He told commissioners “the plan is to make things incrementally better.”