Forward Pinellas Board members express concerns about Dunedin’s Skinner Boulevard project

A roundabout is planned on Douglas Avenue as part of the Skinner Boulevard compete streets project. Some say it could be a problem due to its proximity to the Pinellas Trail.

CLEARWATER — Some of the 13-member Forward Pinellas Board expressed concerns April 10 about design elements included in a complete streets project in the city of Dunedin.

Specific concerns were a roundabout near the Pinellas Trail and parallel parking next to a bike lane.

Bob Ironsmith, Dunedin’s director of Economic and Housing Development, along with Chris Bridges, senior project manager for the city’s consultant George F. Young Inc., presented preliminary concept plans for Skinner Boulevard, aka State Road 580.

Dunedin received a $100,000 grant from Forward Pinellas in 2018 to develop a complete streets concept plan for Skinner Boulevard from U.S. Alt. 19 to Bass Boulevard. The city wants to improve safety for motorists, transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Eighty crashes were reported along the roadway from 2014-2018, including eight bicycle and two pedestrian crashes.

Ironsmith thanked Forward Pinellas for the grant money before announcing the news that Florida Department of Transportation had agreed to allow golf cart crossings, which he attributed in part to the planned complete street components.

Bridges then explained the differences between the three plan concepts that have been presented to the public. Concept #1 was a no-build scenario, which nobody supported, he said. Concept #2 called for reducing the five-lane roadway to two lanes within the project area and adding bike lanes, parking, mid-block pedestrian crossings and landscaping.

Concept #3 is the same as #2, but it adds one-lane roundabouts at Douglas and Highland avenues. Concept #3 has garnered the most support, he said.

PSTA’s Technical Coordination Committee supported #3, as did the Citizen Advisory Committee; however, some CAC members had concerns about the roundabouts.

Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton said board members weren’t expected to vote on the city’s plan at the April 10 meeting, but they could endorse it if they wanted, so the city would know it had support when officials returned to ask for funding.

“I’m really sorry,” said Karen Seel, a Forward Pinellas Board member and County Commission chair.

Seel, who says she travels the roadway a lot, is concerned about the proximity of the proposed Douglas Avenue roundabout to the Pinellas Trail. She said motorists will be so focused on trying to navigate the roundabout, they won’t be paying enough attention to pedestrians and bicyclists on the trail.

Seel said because people don’t know how to use roundabouts, it could create a more dangerous situation.

“I’m just worried,” she said.

Suzy Sofer, board member and Belleair Bluffs commissioner, agreed with Seel.

Bridges pointed out that the roundabouts had been designed to get motorists to slow down. But he agreed to look at the design.

Dave Eggers, board chair and county commissioner, thinks the roundabout will slow traffic down near the trail. He believes people will learn to use it, but it would take time, he said.

Brandi Gabbard, board member and St. Petersburg councilmember, asked about the speed limit.

Ironsmith said it currently was 35 mph or 40 mph on Skinner Boulevard, but would be reduced to 25 mph as part of the redesign.

Gabbard said she believes in the use of roundabouts, if they’re designed effectively and speed limits are slow. Ken Welch, board member and county commissioner, said had some concerns, and thinks education, enforcement and proper speed limits would be needed.

Julie Ward Bujalski, board member and Dunedin mayor, said she pointed out some of the same things Seel had concerns about at a city commission meeting.

“I was the only one saying it,” she said.

Bujalski also would like to have crosswalks located closer to the trail. She thinks pedestrians will try to cross at the roundabouts, although Bridges said the roundabouts weren’t designed for pedestrians.

Bujalski said she was surprised by the number of people at the workshops that supported use of roundabouts. Ironsmith said FDOT also supported them, adding that FDOT was more in a “roundabout mode” these days.

Some board members were concerned about the low number of people that actually attended the workshops. Concept #3 was the preferred option of the 15 out of 17 that attended the Feb. 4 meeting.

Sandra Bradbury, board member and Pinellas Park mayor, brought up another issue — the proximity of parallel parking spaces to bike lanes. She said not many know how to parallel park these days. She is worried that motorists will be so focused on trying to park they won’t see the bicyclists.

The design calls for 7-foot bike lanes to be placed between the roadway and parking spots. Blanton pointed out that 7-foot bike lanes were the standard for roadways with speed limits of 45 mph, which is a lot faster than what will be allowed on Skinner Boulevard.

Bujalski agreed with Bradbury and asked about using angle parking instead of parallel.

Ironsmith and Bridges said they would take the feedback from the meeting into consideration before bringing plans back for approval in May.

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