DUNEDIN — Residents and commissioners drove home a few concerns and identified some bumps in the road when discussing the transformation of Skinner Boulevard, from Bass Boulevard to Alt. U.S. 19 at a recent City Commission meeting.
Many attendees at the May 16 commission meeting voiced favor with the general design concept that includes the addition of two roundabouts, at Douglas and Milwaukee avenues, and a reduction in travel lanes from two to one roadway in each direction.
However, while favoring the general design concept, residents and business people objected to part of the proposal that does not provide a median break along Skinner at Howard Avenue; motorists traveling west will have to use a roundabout at Milwaukee to get to the other side of the road and Howard Avenue.
Commissioner Maureen Freaney asked Jerry Dabkowski, project engineer with George F. Young, if he has looked at the possibility of providing a median opening on Skinner that would allow motorist to cross Howard Avenue, since it has come up at public meetings.
Dabkowski said when he did the walkabout “there was a lot of discussion about people’s driveways, access to their apartments, access to their businesses, and what we shared with everybody is the roundabouts will change how this whole corridor works.”
“If you wanted to get back to Howard,” Dabkowski explained, “essentially putting a break in the median would not work very well. Unless it has an actual left turn lane, what will happen is the car will not have enough room to sit in that median area, without the rear end of the car sticking out. And, because there is only one lane, it could back traffic up. “
The design concept says if motorists want to make a left turn into Howard, or into one of these driveways, they have to go to the roundabout and make the 360-degree turn and go back to that driveway, he said.
“It’s probably going to be the same time to go around the roundabout, and come back, as it would to make a left turn. To put a median break in there it probably won’t work very well,” he said.
Resident and business person Grant Painter thanked commissioners “for working to transform Skinner from downtown’s uninviting northern barrier to something special; a red-carpet entry into our village.”
“Those of us on Howard Avenue notice both concepts show that it’s blocked off without median access. That’s not acceptable to us. I have a quick cut saw and a truck, it won’t last long if it were built there,” he said. “Howard Avenue is the only road that is actually blocked off by the median. Howard Avenue is not just a driveway; it’s actually a road that unfortunately this is kind of ignoring.”
Residents Mark and Happy Jordan also said they liked the redesign concept, but the lack of a median is really going to affect businesses on Howard Avenue.
Gregory Brady, a business owner on Main Street and property owner Skinner, said fellow business operators he has spoken with endorse the redesign that will slow traffic with lane reduction and roundabouts, but they would like to see a median access to Howard Avenue.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski asked the consultant and staff if they can take a look at Howard Avenue.
“I understand what you were saying, there isn’t a space to have a turning lane. I don’t know how you fix that, but that’s why you guys get paid the big bucks,” she said.
The mayor also identified another potential problem. She asked Dabkowski “if you have an emergency vehicle on Skinner headed west, where does the cars pull over?”
“They would get out of the way at the roundabouts,” Debkowski answered.
“So, they have to pull off and head in the other direction to get out of the way of the emergency?” she asked.
He clarified “they would pull over into the extra space in the roundabout; the roundabout really is the only place, or one of the bus bays to get out of the way of EMS or fire.”
Bujalski said the concept sounds scary to her.
“If parking was taken up, where would someone pull over? They would have to pull into someone’s driveway; they would have to pull off and go down a different street. There’s not an easy place to pull over,” she said.
Debkowski attempted to explain that she was correct and such details have to be worked out as part of design, and he believes they will be.
The mayor asked the consultant “is there anything else you can do for pulling vehicles over?”
“We can actually provide an emergency area to pull over, DOT does that,” Debkowski answered.
He said they will contact Safety Harbor officials and see how emergency vehicles are handled in that city on roads with one lane in each direction.
Debkowski added residents living along Skinner will also have to remove their roadside mailboxes and use a cluster box array, because letter carriers will not be able to stop on Skinner to deliver mail and block traffic. In a similar vein, trash haulers will not be able to stop along the road for pickups.
In raising another concern, the mayor said she is also worried about placing parking spaces close to the Pinellas Trail. She said locating parking so close to the trail could create safety and visibility issues.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Skinner design that includes the two roundabouts and reduction in travel lanes. Freaney said staff and consultants vetted the project well.
Dunedin Housing and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith said the $4.7 million project will next enter the design phase, with project completion scheduled in about five years. It will be paid for through a combination of Penny, CRA and potential grant funds.
Commissioners will weigh in on the project once again, when final design plans are complete.