The journey to Clearwater Beach via the south side of the Memorial Causeway, designated the "Great Florida Birding Trail," is an unmitigated pleasure for walkers and bikers alike, with a world-class view of the bay and a pristine, grassy shoreline worthy of a close inspection. At least, it used to be.
Now, more than half a mile of this shoreline has been converted into an unpaved, unsupervised, dirty parking lot, with as many as 500 vehicles parking in five rows from the low bridge crossing to the beach all the way back to the traffic light at Island Way. The grass is shredded, the surface is dust or mud, trash abounds, and oil leakage from vehicles is a visual blight and washes into the bay. The shoreline has visibly deteriorated in the last 12 months from pollution. Vehicles park within four feet of the bay waters, with bird sanctuaries not far offshore, being polluted. The Birding Trail has become a roadway.
I have seen as many as four tour buses parked on the causeway strip simultaneously, and semi-trailers and large RVs are welcome. Commercial vehicles open mobile businesses here, selling trinkets and food. Never have I seen any of them ticketed, and I walk this beat regularly.
Parking limit signs are ignored by everyone, including the Clearwater Police. Two months ago, walking back from the beach through the sea of vehicles, checking out Toyotas instead of turtles, I asked a policeman sitting in his vehicle at Island Way why the vehicles parked on the causeway were never ticketed. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "They have to park somewhere."
The St. Pete Times published an article wherein city officials once again expressed regret that the oft-discussed beach parking remains an empty promise. It is noteworthy that no mention was made of this Memorial Causeway parking lot that city officials have quietly allowed to flourish - this is their solution to inadequate beach parking. It is not advertised, it is not patrolled, and there is obviously an agreement between the City Council and the Police Department that vehicles parked here will not be ticketed.
It is illegal and unethical and disrespectable to selectively enforce parking regulations.
I wonder if officials at the Florida Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintenance of the causeway as a state highway, are aware of and approve of this pollution and misuse of public property by the city of Clearwater.
The legacy of this Clearwater City Council is to be remembered as the elected officials who failed to create legal beach parking and who have deliberately polluted the bay waters and converted the once-beautiful Memorial Causeway into a third-class, unpaved parking lot.
These are the same people who, in this fall's elections, are going to ask Clearwater voters to trust them to redevelop the Clearwater bluff. Let's hope they become better stewards first.
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