DUNEDIN — The people have spoken.
The City Commission unanimously voted to scrap a proposal to widen the sidewalks along Pinehurst Road and install a multi-use trail for bicyclists and pedestrians after the neighborhood raised a ruckus.
City officials had pegged the 8-foot-wide path as the first stage of a plan to connect Pinehurst, Michigan Avenue and San Christopher Drive to the Pinellas Trail.
The initiative was envisioned as part of the city's larger goal to eventually connect all the city's parks, schools, recreation facilities, waterfront, downtown and other areas to the Pinellas Trail via dedicated bicycle lanes, sidewalks and multi-use paths. Officials say such paths reduce the environmental impact of vehicles, promote health and provide safe routes for bicyclists and pedestrians.
But officials said many of the 60 Pinehurst area residents who attended a July 14 community meeting angrily protested that they didn't want the messy construction or increased traffic woes they thought such a project would bring.
Others decried the notion that the route would promote child safety, saying they've never seen students biking to or from Dunedin High School on Pinehurst Road. There was also concern that more golf carts than pedestrians or bicyclists would take advantage of the added sidewalk space.
And some residents questioned the city's wisdom in embarking on the $447,000 project during these tough economic times.
"The concept was kind of neat, but I think we all heard it loud and clear from the neighborhood that they do not want this," Commissioner David Carson said during a workshop last week, where officials interrupted budget talks to discuss the issue before taking a vote. "I walked away from that meeting saying this needs to die a very quick death."
Commissioner Julie Scales said the golf cart issue also raised her concerns about child safety.
"Let's bite the bullet here and move on," she said. "They were very angry. There are traffic issues on Pinehurst and they viewed this as causing another traffic issue."
Public Works director Doug Hutchens sent a letter to residents the next day informing them that the project had been "officially canceled."
Now officials — who had planned to use $181,000 in city funds as well as a $266,000 federal Safe Routes to School grant — have turned their attention to finding out whether the state will allow them to use the grant to fund a similar project elsewhere in the city.
Meanwhile, commissioners directed City Manager Rob DiSpirito to start developing a citywide master pedestrian plan.
This time around, commissioners plan to get public feedback earlier in the process.
"One of the things I think all of us have recently been critical of is the state's plan for Honeymoon Island and how they just seemed to throw it out on us," Mayor Dave Eggers said, referring to the state's recent proposal to allow RV camping on the island.
"I think the folks on Pinehurst took it that way, too. They hadn't been a part of this dialogue and no matter how well-intentioned we may have been, we didn't get the input."
This isn't the first time a road project has resulted in public outcry.
Just this spring, petitioners gathered nearly 700 signatures of residents who opposed the March closure of Patricia Avenue. Some residents complained that they didn't know that the City Commission had been discussing speeding and excess traffic in their neighborhood.
The city has said they will review the closure this fall, after follow-up studies are completed.
When it comes to transportation issues, commissioners "shouldn't get ahead" of the community, Scales said.
"I always say I was not elected to be God," she said. "We need to hear what our people want, not impose what some of us want. So moving forward, I'd like to hopefully move into an era where there's not boiling cauldrons over traffic issues that we have created."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.