DUNEDIN — While actual transformation of Skinner Boulevard is four to five years away, city commissioners weighed in on how they would tweak roadway redesign to make it even more user friendly.
During a March 12 work session, CRA Director Robert Ironsmith told commissioners “we’re very excited about the change and transformation of Skinner.”
“Skinner Boulevard today functions to move cars fast but does not incorporate other elements of a complete street such as safety, walkability, bicycle movement, golf cart crossing, enhanced sidewalks and improved access connections,” Ironsmith said.
City officials envision Skinner Boulevard as an extension of the city’s successful downtown, especially since a revitalized and redesigned North Douglas Avenue is seen as a conduit to ferry pedestrians north of Main Street.
Unlike city-maintained Main Street, Skinner Boulevard from Bass Boulevard to Alt. U.S. 19 is the western terminus of State Road 580. While for several years state Department of Transportation officials emphasized moving traffic quickly, in what is seen as perfect timing for Dunedin, officials recently embraced the idea of streetscaping and traffic-calming measures through downtown areas such as Skinner Boulevard.
Ironsmith said the planning process should be done toward the end of May. However, the project still has to be approved by the Forward Pinellas Board and by City Commission at their regular meetings.
He noted the golf-cart crossing should be installed at Skinner Boulevard and the Pinellas Trail in a much shorter amount of time than the roadway redesign.
During the work session, city commissioners voiced approval of a roadway design that will reduce traffic lanes along Skinner, north of downtown, from four to two lanes, one heading east and one west.
Improvements include a new traffic signal mast arm at Bass Boulevard and Main Street that is able to withstand 140 mph winds. The stretch of Skinner Boulevard from Bass Boulevard to Alt. 19 will include landscape medians, raised crosswalks and greenspace on the right of way edges.
In the event of a hurricane evacuation both lanes along Skinner would be redirected eastbound.
City engineering consultant Jerry Dabkowski, vice president with George F. Young, said as part of making the road safer and reducing speed, Skinner will feature two one-lane roundabouts at Highland and Douglas avenues.
He noted it will be a much different design than the Clearwater Beach roundabout, which has two lanes of traffic heading on one direction, and allows cars to merge within the traffic circle. However, because of the nature of roundabout design it cannot include a pedestrian crossing at those intersections.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski voiced concern that pedestrians will try to use the roundabout to cross at Douglas and Highland avenues.
“If people are walking up Douglas or MLK (Highland) they will want to cross there,” the mayor noted.
She added she is “really concerned about threat of pedestrians attempting mid-block crossings, because their path will be blocked by the roundabout.”
Debkowski noted pedestrians “won’t be able to cross north bound at the roundabout, because too much is going on” within that space.
The mayor said she is “concerned that there will be no crosswalks at the biggest crossing streets. I feel they will cross where there is no crosswalk; we have to address that.”
Dabkowski said raised, and perhaps illuminated, pedestrian crossings will be located near the roundabouts.
The mayor also questioned how large delivery trucks and boat trailers will maneuver though the roundabout at Highland Avenue.
Debkowski explained special truck aprons built into roundabouts will allow wide trucks to maneuver safely.
It is estimated Skinner redesign should add 10 minutes to the average commute, Debkowski said.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes asked whether solar lights can be installed in the base of pedestrian crossings as a safety measure for motorists.
Debkowski said that is one of the options, along with slightly raising the crossing, that will be offered to the commission for an additional project cost.
Commissioner Jeff Gow suggested Skinner redesign include angled rather than parallel parking, because it is easier to maneuver.
Debkowski said angled parking could be considered. It would provide more parking spaces, but travel lanes would have to be slightly narrowed to allow vehicles to safely back out of spaces.
Gow added he is concerned that by reducing traffic lanes on Skinner Boulevard, traffic may detour and be pushed into neighborhoods streets.
Debkowski said just going from four to two lanes isn’t going to slow traffic that will move at a constant rate.
“It will still be faster to use Skinner than go onto Main Street,” he said.
And will “still be more efficient to stay on Skinner versus San Christopher.”
Last summer the city received a Forward Pinellas Grant application for $100,000 for planning Skinner Boulevard redesign. A City Commission meeting is scheduled for May 16, seeking approval of final plans for the estimated $3.7-million to $4.7-million project.