Forward Pinellas takes on pedestrian and bicyclists safety

Walkers stroll along the Pinellas Trail in downtown Dunedin. Pinellas County continues to work to provide safer conditions for its pedestrians and bicyclists.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County has been working to improve pedestrian and bicyclists safety for years and with good reason.

Through June 30 of this year, 36% of fatality crashes in the county have involved pedestrians (18) with another 10% (5) from bicyclists. Motorcycle and vehicles both came in at 24% (12 fatalities each). Over the same period last year – Jan. 1-June 30, 2018, 20 pedestrian and five bicyclists fatalities were recorded, along with 14 motorcyclists’ deaths and 16 fatalities involving vehicles.

The county’s pedestrian fatality rate at 3.17 is higher than the state’s at 2.78.

Planning Division Manager Rodney Chatman updated the Forward Pinellas Board July 10 on the Active Transportation Plan, which targets walking and biking. Chatman talked about progress made in recent years to improve safety, including that 80% of county’s major roadways now have sidewalks.

The League of American Bicyclists has designated the county as one of 19 Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Counties. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection named the city of Dunedin as the state’s first Trail Town. The state has awarded the county with Coast-to-Coast Trail funding for key projects. And, St. Petersburg’s Bicycle Friendly Business Program is ranked fifth in the nation.

Still more changes are needed to make conditions safer, Chatman said.

One of Forward Pinellas’ goals is for the county to become a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly County. For that to happen, the number of people who use a bicycle to commute has to increase with fewer crashes and fatalities involving bicyclists.

The county developed its current plan to improve pedestrian and bicycling in 2013. Since that time, new and improved infrastructure types and design standards have been developed throughout the United States. Consideration of level of traffic stress, equity, safety, accessibility and other factors are now used to identify strategic bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Forward Pinellas staff has identified 10-12 projects using these new techniques and is making plans to build them in the next 10 years, Chatman said.

Plans take into account four types of bicyclists. Chatman explained that about 1-3% are considered “strong and fearless,” another 5-10% “enthused and confident.” The most, 50-60% are “interested but concerned,” and 30% say “no way, no how.”

Level of stress is used to categorize roads by considering the type of riders who would be willing to use them based on number of traffic lanes, speed of traffic, number of vehicles, presence of bike lanes, width of bike lanes and presence of a physical barrier.

Roads categorized as a stress level 1 are those where most children would feel safe. Stress level 2 includes roads where bicyclists who are “interested but concerned” would feel safe. Level 3 are streets where “enthused and confident” riders would feel safe, but still want their own dedicated space. Level 4 are high-stress roads with high speed limits, multiple travel lanes, limited or non-existent bikeways and long intersection crossing distances.

Demand for pedestrian and bicycling is high in Pinellas. Areas of demand tie directly to population and employment centers, proximity to destinations and transit stops, along with the length of time to reach a desired destination.

The public’s vision for walking and biking includes a need for safe, connected, comfortable, accessible and functional roadways, among other things, such as convenience, inclusive and practical.

Board Member and Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski requested that consistency in trail crossings be a part of any new plan. She said it was important they be the same so locals and tourists know what to expect.

Board Member and County Commissioner Ken Welch brought up the issue of bike lanes that were “in-name only.” He said the condition of some with flaws such as uneven pavement made them unsafe.

Board Member and County Commissioner Janet Long agreed and pointed out that some roads have bike lanes that are too narrow and are “scary,” especially when in use by multiple bikers.

Forward Pinellas CEO Whit Blanton agreed that some roadways had bike lanes that were unsafe and others were scary, such as the three-foot ones along the frontage roads of U.S. 19. New design considerations call for roadways with speed limits above 45 mph to have wider bike lanes to provide a buffer, he said.

But, it is a challenge to find space for bike lanes, Blanton said. It often calls for a trade off in right-of-way costs or narrower travel lanes for vehicles, he said.

“You can’t always get protected bike lanes, but it’s safer than no bike lanes at all,” he said. “We’re doing our best, working with our partners to find optimal solutions, but they’re not always optimal.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.