DUNEDIN — From a roundabout to an overpass, city commissioners discussed several ideas Dec. 14 to make the Pinellas Trail crossing at Skinner Boulevard safer.
Such "out of the box" ideas at least for now will yield to a short-term plan to improve the busy crossing through the use of a mid-block pedestrian signal.
David Gwynn, Florida Department of Transportation District 7 secretary, discussed the short-term solution to address safety concerns at the crossing.
It involves a temporary mid-block pedestrian signal that is expected to be completed by Pinellas County government in three to four months.
The pedestrian signal is expected to operate like a regular traffic signal. Drivers will face a red traffic signal while trail users cross the intersection. Trail users will activate the signal with a push button.
Situations exist throughout the FDOT's district that are similar to the Pinellas Trail crossing at Skinner, Gwynn said, and that crossing is not as easy to fix as some others.
Right now, rectangular rapid flashing beacons are used at the crossing and are not foolproof, but neither are traffic signals, he said.
"There is no perfect solution, but the traffic signal would require vehicles to stop," Gwynn said.
One of the challenges was trying to accommodate cyclists who don't want to stop, he said.
"They just want to keep riding through," Gwynn said. "And lot of them were riding through even though there was no warning there. They also don't like to stop and push the button. So we put in more active detection to be able to see somebody coming from further on."
With the improvements, trail users will see a normal red, yellow and then green.
"So those cyclists who want to go through are going to be faced with a mandatory stop at the location, but it should provide better safety," Gwynn said.
The signals will be in place until a long-term solution is implemented.
Bids for a long-term proposed project are expected to be solicited in June during fiscal year 2024. The estimated cost is $4.7 million.
Under the county's Forward Pinellas Complete Streets Program, the long-term project envisions roundabouts, two travel lanes, bike and park lanes, a multi-use path, landscaping, sidewalks and other amenities. The proposed roundabouts along Skinner Boulevard would be at Highland Avenue and Douglas Avenue.
Commissioner Jeff Gow said he appreciates that officials are trying to solve the problems at the trail crossing, "but I just don't know if this is it."
He asked about the possibility of a bridge being built at the crossing for trail users.
Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, said the agency has a list of trail crossings that are planned, but the Skinner Trail crossing is not included.
A lot of high-volume roadways are under consideration for bridges, which cost $5 million to $7 million depending on the length of the structures.
Blanton also said he's concerned that a bridge at that location would harm the accessibility and charm of land uses at the four corners of the crossing.
However, the agency reviews the trail overpass crossings every year and would consider Skinner Boulevard. Forward Pinellas expects to be getting more money for such projects under federal government funding, Blanton said.
Gow asked whether a roundabout could be built at Skinner Boulevard.
Gwynn said he didn't think the city had enough rights-of-way at that location for a roundabout.
Gow said he was trying to "think outside the box."
"Are we looking globally to solve this problem? Do we know what other major cities are doing throughout the United States, through Europe? What is working for anybody? I would be more than happy to steal somebody's else's good idea than trying to come up with our own that isn't as good," Gow said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski was concerned that pedestrians and bicyclists would not use the buttons in the traffic signal to activate it.
The only way that trail users will change their behavior is by forcing them to stop, she said.
"We are putting the onus on the car to stop,” not on the bicyclists and pedestrians, she said.
Blanton said he thinks having a traffic signal that turns red at the crossing with better markings will change behavior.
Also discussed was the need for auxiliary trail rangers in addition to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office personnel helping to inform trail users about the new traffic signal.
Jerry Dabkowski, a traffic consultant attending the meeting as a Dunedin resident, suggested that when trail users push a button to get a green light to cross, they could get a countdown signal.
"So people aren't saying, 'How long to I have to wait to cross Skinner Boulevard. We have the technology to do that,'" he said.
His idea may be explored.
"I think that's a fantastic idea to have the countdown so people will know what to expect," Commissioner Moe Freaney said.
Several residents weighed in on the issue on Facebook, including a post from a trail user who didn't find the crossing difficult at all.
"Turn on the signals, make eye contact with the motorists to be sure they see you — and move along quickly so you don't hold them up. Mutual respect and half a brain is all it takes," the post said.
Another post suggested, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that officials should put speed bumps on the trail.