CLEARWATER — Fort Harrison Avenue is not the most dangerous street for drivers in the city’s downtown — Drew Street saw almost 1,700 crashes between 2013 and 2017 — but it’s had its share of accidents.
According to the Clearwater Planning and Development Department, while there have been no traffic fatalities along Fort Harrison Avenue, the road saw 654 crashes — auto, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian — during the same five years.
Both arteries (Drew Street runs east-west into downtown) are beneficiaries of the city’s adoption of the Complete Streets Planning Grant program, which, simply put, uses civil engineering to create attractive, safe streets that are convenient for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, micro-mobility users, automobile drivers, and people who use public transportation. The City Council approved a similar grant for Drew Street in 2017, and now it is Fort Harrison’s turn.
One result of street design changes is the slowing of traffic, which increases decision time for drivers, for pedestrians, for everyone.
“The faster cars go, the higher the risk is to people who are walking and people who are driving,” said Ric Hartman, Clearwater’s senior transportation planner. “Two cars hitting at 20 mph is a whole lot different than two cars hitting at 40 mph, so it really does improve safety for drivers as well.”
He spoke with the Beacon on June 20, moments after the City Council authorized Hartman to receive a $50,000 Complete Streets grant from Forward Pinellas County, a coalition of county and municipal elected officials. Among the coalition’s goals: Creating a safe and fluid regional transportation network for all users. The city will match the $50,000 with its own funds to prepare a Complete Streets concept plan for Fort Harrison, Hartman said.
When applying for the Forward Pinellas grant, the city first studied the population makeup, as well as the locations of businesses, hospitals, schools and other facilities along the street. The program will also analyze traffic patterns, the location and design of intersections, the width of sidewalks, traffic signage — in short, all the design elements on either side of the road along its entire length. The final design must also be attractive and provide better sight lines and longer decision time for drivers, and meet other city aims, such as sustainability and environmental goals.
Using software that can visualize and enhance an existing street, traffic designers can create landscaped mediums, install bicycle lanes, reposition utility poles or bury utility lines underground — in effect, modeling an improved road that’s safer for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work.
Hartman agrees with Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos — who stated so during the June 20 council meeting — that the Fort Harrison Avenue improvements don’t negatively affect traffic patterns on adjacent streets.
“We want Fort Harrison to match the downtown redevelopment plan to create a more walkable, urbanized area,” he said.
The project will recommend gradual improvements to the road from Belleair Road to the Seminole boat ramp and beyond to where North Fort Harrison Avenue merges with North Myrtle Avenue.
“A Complete Streets Implementation Plan provides a toolkit of all these different types of adaptations and improvements,” Hartman said. “We look at where we can make these design changes within the right of way and within the curb-to-curb.”
A small section of Hartman’s profile for Fort Harrison Avenue, for instance, notes that the artery provides not only access to downtown businesses and Clearwater Beach, it serves as a corridor for boat owners hoping to launch their boats. Noting that the Seminole Street Boat Launch north of downtown is a popular destination, the study recommends providing “adequate lane widths, intersections, and turning radii for vehicles towing boats.”
City staff also determined that pedestrian safety isn’t what it should be along the entire length of Fort Harrison, which, the study notes, has sidewalks of varying widths on both sides of the street. “There are numerous intersections for crossing,” the study notes, “but the amount of traffic and vehicle speeds make pedestrian crossings difficult.”
Citizens shouldn’t expect Complete Streets changes along Fort Harrison anytime soon, Hartman said.
“It is about incremental change, improving the street with one or more low-cost Complete Streets improvements when that street is already undergoing some kind of construction,” he said.