CLEARWATER — Despite vocal opposition from many residents of South Clearwater Beach, city officials are leaning toward turning two of the beach's main thoroughfares into one-way streets.
The City Council will likely vote Thursday night to make Coronado Drive southbound only and Hamden Drive northbound only.
Council members expect to hear from beach residents who disagree with the plan, but they believe the change is for the greater good. They think it will improve traffic flow and public safety after two large parking garages open along Coronado.
"I knew we were going to get some gnashing of teeth on this, but I think we can definitely move more traffic" with one-way streets, said Mayor Frank Hibbard. "I believe we need to make decisions up here that are in favor of the majority of people."
Officials will likely wait until after spring break to make the switch. That would give the city time to repave Hamden and improve its crosswalks, preparing the little-used street to handle four times as many vehicles under the new traffic pattern.
The plan is opposed by residents of Devon, Brightwater and Bayside drives — three fingers of land that jut out into Clearwater Harbor east of Hamden. Under this proposal, they wouldn't be able to immediately turn left when they leave their neighborhoods. They're also worried about higher speeds on Hamden.
Nearly 200 people have signed a petition opposing the one-way plan. However, the board of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce supports it.
Opinions also were divided at a recent public meeting on this issue. Out of 32 people who wrote down comments at the meeting, seven were in favor of the idea, saying things like, "This should have been done years ago." Another 16 were opposed, saying things like, "A big no to one way!" Nine comments were harder to classify and offered various suggestions.
Council members are considering making this change because they're worried about the effect that two new parking garages will have on beach traffic.
The city will soon put a 300-space public garage next to a Hyatt hotel that opens in January with a 750-space garage. Both will exit onto Coronado. When beachgoers leave in droves at the end of the day, hundreds of cars could be trying to turn left across traffic on Coronado to head toward the Clearwater Beach roundabout and leave the island.
"A recipe for disaster," Councilwoman Carlen Petersen calls it.
Aside from safety concerns, this scenario could back up southbound vehicles on Coronado all the way up to the roundabout, which could paralyze beach traffic, officials said.
At a City Council work session Monday morning, officials discussed some alternatives beach residents suggested. But they decided these wouldn't work:
• What about making S Gulfview Boulevard a northbound one-way street instead of Hamden? The council doesn't want to funnel faster one-way traffic onto Gulfview, which is intended to be a scenic, pedestrian-friendly corridor on the beachfront.
• What about making Coronado one-way but leaving Hamden and S Gulfview as two-way? The city's traffic operations manager, Paul Bertels, thinks that would lead to "extreme" lines of cars waiting to get onto Hamden from Coronado. There would be three southbound lanes on Coronado but only one northbound lane on Hamden. City Manager Bill Horne said that could lead to complaints from Sand Key residents trying to drive north from their homes.
Councilman George Cretekos suggested waiting to change the streets to one-way until after the city makes some improvements to Hamden. The city won't be able to do that until after spring break because it's currently busy repaving S Gulfview.
In the meantime, officials are thinking about trying to prevent left turns out of the new Hyatt parking garage by putting barriers in the middle of Coronado — the same way that some median openings along U.S. 19 in Clearwater were closed up last year.
At least twice before, in 1976 and 1988, Clearwater's traffic engineers have proposed turning Coronado and Hamden drives into a pair of one-way streets. Both times, the idea was killed due to public opposition.
This time around, City Council members sound like they're prepared to weather criticism.
"It seems like it's every 10 years — maybe like the cicadas — this has come up," said Councilman John Doran. "If we do move forward, we're going to have people say that we didn't listen to them. ... We do listen to them. But our job, by necessity, means that we can't satisfy everybody and we can't please everybody."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.