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A bike trail from Tampa to Clearwater Beach draws closer to reality

CLEARWATER

For ambitious cyclists who dream of saddling up on Ben T. Davis Beach in Tampa and a few hours later easing sore muscles into the Gulf of Mexico, more than 7 miles of trails slated to be completed in the city by late 2016 would make the bay-to-gulf ride a reality.

A biker who started pedaling on the Tampa end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway would take a patchwork of trails through Clearwater that are either already open, under construction or planned:

• West on the Courtney Campbell Trail across Tampa Bay. The Tampa side of the trail is finished. The Clearwater side is under construction and scheduled to open in 2015.

• North on a short connecting trail along Bayshore Boulevard. The segment is planned, but not yet under construction.

• West on the existing Ream Wilson Trail that crosses over McMullen-Booth Road.

• South on the existing Duke Energy Trail just west of U.S. 19.

• West on another connecting trail along Druid Road that is scheduled to open in 2016.

• North on the existing Pinellas Trail to Memorial Causeway across the Intracoastal Waterway to Clearwater Beach.

Planners and civic boosters say the new trails could be a potential game changer for Clearwater's biking reputation.

A Tampa to Clearwater Beach route could also help resolve a paradox revealed in a recent city survey: Clearwater falls short of state bike trail guidelines by nearly 40 miles despite overwhelming support for them among residents.

A recent city Parks and Recreation Department survey found the roughly 15 miles of trails in the city are nowhere close to the 54.37 miles recommended for a city of 108,000. That's evident for anyone trying to cross the city by bike as gaps force cyclists to ride onto sidewalks or nervously navigate busy thoroughfares.

More than 80 percent of the residents queried said they wanted more trails.

Opening up a biking corridor from Tampa to Clearwater Beach could stimulate the city's economy and put it on the map as a biking tourist destination, city planners and elected officials hope.

"That would be huge," said Felicia Leonard, a Clearwater recreation planner with expertise in bike and pedestrian trails.

Others are skeptical.

Mike Riordon, who has owned City Cycle and Supply Co. on Court Street beside the Pinellas Trail since 2007, doesn't see a big economic bump from a bay-to-gulf trail. The roughly 20-mile trek would be windy and a lot tougher than many people realize, he said.

"The percentage of people who will bike from Tampa to Clearwater Beach is astronomically low," Riordon said.

Who's right? One way to find out is to build it and see if they will come.

Clearwater City Council member Bill Jonson spearheaded the $20 million Courtney Campbell Trail project, paid for with federal dollars. He thinks a trail crossing Tampa Bay will attract traveling biking clubs from around the country looking for destination trips.

"It all enhances the viability and attractiveness of the region. People don't want to just ride on roads," Jonson said.

He would like to see the City Council accelerate the schedule for building the 0.8-mile connecting trail along Bayshore Boulevard to the Ream Wilson Trail at an estimated cost of about $800,000 in Penny for Pinellas sales tax funds.

Another leg of the Duke Energy Trail, formerly the Progress Energy Trail, is on the drawing board. Right now, that trail begins at Belleair Road just west of U.S. 19 and runs north for 2.3 miles to Bright House Field. Another 2.3-mile stretch is planned that would extend it to Enterprise Road, where there is already an elevated crossing over U.S. 19.

Pinellas County is negotiating with Duke Energy for the extension. Duke is reviewing a draft agreement submitted by the county earlier this month, said Sterling Ivey, a Duke spokesman.

To those who doubt that a bike trail network will knit together the city's economic development, tourism and quality of life aspirations, Jonson counsels patience.

And he points to the well-established Pinellas Trail, which has energized downtowns in Dunedin and Tarpon Springs, as an example.

Central Clearwater has logistical hurdles that handicap development around the Pinellas Trail: a dogleg trail path through downtown and dangerous crossings on Court and Chestnut streets, which are routes to and from Clearwater Beach.

But north of downtown, the Pinellas Trail runs through the Old Bay and North Greenwood neighborhoods, which could evolve into an "arts district," Jonson said. Already, the neighborhood is showing signs of life with the success of Nauti Nancy's, a restaurant and bar, he said.

"Some things just take a little while to come together," he said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

A bike trail from Tampa to Clearwater Beach draws closer to reality 03/28/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:13pm]
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