What Does Clearwater Beach Want to be When it Grows Up
By Anne McKay Garris
In the almost forty years I have kept an eye on the doings of Clearwater Beach, lots of decisions have been made. The most important one, however, awaits the wisdom of a truly wise city official, or group thereof. The most recent proposal to make one-way streets on South Clearwater Beach is a case in point. The question is not so much, will it work, or even do the people want it? The question, which no one is asking is, "Should Clearwater Beach be a quality tourist destination, or a crowded place for people to rush through on their way to somewhere else?"
With regard to one-way streets, the question should be, "Will one-way streets encourage people to come and linger in our community, enjoying themselves among the natural beauty with which we are blessed? Or will one-way streets hasten them past what we have to offer and on to somewhere else?"
No one seems to be asking these questions, instead, now that we have approved two large parking garages, side by side in a congested area, the question seems to be, how can we arrange the traffic flow so that people will be able to leave the garages without hindrance?
Last week, the city set up displays at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center, inviting citizens to come and look, ask questions and even make comments on a one-way street traffic plan which would make Coronado one way going South and Hamden one way going North. That would leave South Gulfview going two ways because, according to the city, South Gulfview is the "scenic corridor."
In their written literature distributed at the Rec Center, city staff acknowledged this might cause businesses on Coronado Drive to lose customers, and the residents on South Beach would surely "object to routine traffic patterns being disrupted," but it would eliminate conflicts for vehicles exiting multiple parking garages and parking lots on the Coronado corridor.
The residents of the three fingers that have Hamden Drive as the only exit from their homes are doing much more than objecting to disruption of routine traffic patterns. They are wondering about the busy times when they will be trapped with no possibility of going anywhere because of traffic sitting at the entrance of their street, waiting to make its way to the Roundabout.
"It's one thing for a driver headed south on a two-way street to be thoughtful enough to let you in line," said one concerned South Beach resident. "But it's another when the drivers have been sitting in line a long time, inching their way along, heading for the clogged up Roundabout. They are simply not going to let you in and, since you can't go South, you won't go anywhere."
The problem is especially difficult on Devon Drive where homeowners would have to beg an entry into traffic at the intersection of Devon and Hamden, then, a short block later, they would do the same on Coronado. It would seem the one-way street questions boils down to, "Is it best to make life difficult to impossible for our residents who are here all the time, in order to make it easier for the visitors who are using the parking garages, or driving along to get through the South Beach as quickly as possible? Are the pedestrians from the east side of the island, trying to reach the beach, less important than the cars with impatiently revving engines, eager to leave the island as quickly as possible?
Although staff wrote that the businesses on Hamden would welcome the additional traffic, most of the businesses on Hamden are motels, thirteen of them with back-out parking, which would make it far more difficult to safely maneuver if the street became one-way.
In the survey, taken at the Rec Center, there were seven comments in favor of the one-way traffic plan. One of them stated that the plan addresses traffic flow. Another suggested that the one-way streets were a good idea, but parking garages were "a horrible idea, because the beach will be full of parking instead of hotels or amenities. Parking garages are only needed five weeks of the year, so why change the whole traffic pattern to accommodate them."
One person suggested one-way south on South Gulfview and north on Hamden Drive. "Residents need Hamden as a buffer," he added. "Let the heavy traffic be in the business section where it is needed and give the residents a little breathing room."
Nine of the people filling out response cards were in the "maybe/maybe not" category, but even they had suggestions for improving the plan.
And fifteen people were clearly and emphatically opposed to any one-way streets on the South Beach. "No! to one-way streets," one card insisted, adding, "This does nothing for the 240 residences or 75 motel and other businesses on these streets who pay 8 to 9 million dollars in property taxes." Here the suggestion was for "no left turn" signs as vehicles leave the garages on Coronado.
One South Beach motel owner summed it up. "I am afraid this plan, if implemented, will move us away from the very thing that has made Clearwater Beach a safe destination where people can enjoy a sense of leisure and quiet," he wrote.
While the City Council Members have not yet voted on the one-way street plan, they are expecting to at the regular Council meeting on November 19. South Beach residents, seeing their quality of life and safety threatened by the project, have begun to plan how best to persuade the Council to consider the wellbeing of their constituents at least as important as the visitors to the Beach.
In April of 1992, the Clearwater Beach Association made a presentation to the Clearwater City Commission. After reviewing the long hours and extensive research which had gone into the report, CBA board member, John Ward suggested to the Commission several changes that could be made to improve the movement of traffic on Clearwater Beach, then he concluded with, "Mass transportation is an integral part of solving traffic problems on the Beach. After all of the above recommendations (for mass transit) have been implemented, and it is still shown that the traffic congestion on South Beach requires one-way streets, then the Board recommends that as its final implementation." He added, "The final goal is still to see to it that Gulfview is a very user friendly resort zone street, but we do not wish to have any harm done to the small motel owners on Coronado and Hamden, keeping in mind that the total South Beach complex must be user friendly."
Since 1992, and before, the Clearwater Beach Association has consistently opposed traffic garages on Clearwater Beach, believing the limited land on the island should be used for more user friendly and tourist entertainment purposes and mass transit from the mainland should be the answer to the traffic problems.
Return to Current Edition