The Stuckard family, from Pittsburgh, navigates the obstacles on Coronado Drive's sidewalk. Paul (right) said, "I like the sidewalk, but the trees and the light posts are in the wrong place."
CLEARWATER - Councilmember George Cretekos drives Coronado Drive several times per day, and he doesn't like what he sees of the recently completed facelift the street received as part of Phase I of Beach Walk construction. He took the opportunity to speak his mind as a "sidewalk superintendent" during the May 15th City Council work session.
The recently completed first phase of the construction project widened Coronado Drive and, according to Clearwater's Beach Walk Brochure, added "Wide sidewalks" where there had largely been none before. The wider street and sidewalks came at considerable pain to small motel owners along Coronado, who lost what had been back-out parking that was partially in the public right-of-way adjacent to their businesses.
Sidewalks received a lot of attention from members of the public during the February 25, 2003, Beach Walk Design Charette. Coronado Drive was identified as being both uncomfortable and dangerous for pedestrians due to its narrow, broken and missing sidewalks. The public asked for wider sidewalks with separation from traffic lanes by distance and lush landscaping.
Ultimately, Coronado's sidewalks were designed and built seven feet wide, seemingly responsive to the public input. But Cretekos was disappointed with the result. On the east side of Coronado between Hamden and 1st Street, he counted 36 palm trees and 15 light poles planted nearly in the center of the sidewalk, " a grand total of 65 what I consider impediments," he said. The west sidewalk is no better; Cretekos observed that within 3/10 of a mile there are almost 50 palm trees, light poles and signs in the middle of the walkway.
"In my mind, what we've done is created an obstacle course for Survivor contestants," Cretekos said, "this is not what a sidewalk is for. A sidewalk is to walk next to each other, to enjoy the ambience of the community and the neighborhood, and I don't think our sidewalks on Coronado have accomplished that."
Councilmember John Doran defended the design; "I don't have quite the heartburn that you do about the trees and lights," he said, explaining that Beach Walk's primary pedestrian focus is on South Gulfview and its 35-foot wide promenade now under construction.
Cretekos was unconvinced. "It's very hard for two people to walk side by side within a confined space of 41-inches," he said.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen was concerned only that the sidewalks were Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, and joined Doran in defending the design.
Councilmember Paul Gibson, responding to Petersen's reference to ADA-compliance, said, "I'd kind of like to see it functionally compliant too, and I think it's dysfunctional as it's currently constructed. I'm very disappointed with how it turned out."
Mayor Frank Hibbard joined Doran and Petersen in defending the design, saying, "Coronado, although it is not perfect, is so much better than it ever was; you can't even argue with that."
But Cretekos persisted. "In my opinion, to have approximately 65 impediments to a sidewalk, whether it's on Coronado or on Cleveland Street or on Prince Philip Drive, does not make any sense, especially when those impediments are placed in the middle of the sidewalk," he said, "I don't want to see that happen in the future, and I'm baffled as to how this even occurred."
City Engineer Mike Quillen explained that the palm trees could have been located 8-inches closer to the curb, but the placement of the light posts was constrained by the location of underground conduits for utilities. "That's the constraint you have with a seven foot sidewalk," he said.
City Manager Bill Horne observed, "It sounds like you all have a much different view of how to balance esthetics with functionality." Clearwater has a history of favoring form over function in its redevelopment projects, for example the roundabout with its ill-advised fountain and pockmarked shell-impregnated sidewalks that were supposed to be compatible with inline skating. Cretekos seems determined to reverse that trend going forward, although his influence has come too late for Coronado's sidewalks.