DUNEDIN — By the end of the year, Dunedin expects to embark on a project to become one of the Tampa Bay region's most bicycle-friendly cities.
The city has presented to residents the first phase of a three-phase plan to widen sidewalks, pave existing gravel easements and add road markings and signs along Michigan Boulevard, Patricia Avenue, McCarty Street and other north Dunedin roads.
The goal is to eventually tie in with the Progress Energy Trail in Clearwater, which currently ends near Bright House Field but eventually will stretch north around Countryside Mall to Clearwater's Curlew Avenue, just a few hundred feet south of Dunedin's proposed bike path.
While Dunedin plans to incorporate on-road bike lanes into future road improvement projects, officials for now are staying away from extensive road-widening, which met adamant resistance when proposed for a one-mile stretch of Pinehurst Road near Dunedin High School in 2011.
So far, officials say, this phase of the city's master bicycle-pedestrian plan has been embraced by both serious cyclists looking to commute quickly across Pinellas County and families wanting a leisurely stroll about town.
"I listened to both of those user groups," said Matthew Campbell, assistant to the city manager, "and came up with a plan that still enables both to access the major activity centers that we were trying to reach with the original Pinehurst plan," like the Dunedin Community Center, Highlander Park and churches.
Furthermore, he said, bike routes are a "savvy investment in the state's tourism infrastructure," given statistics from the Outdoor Industry Association that $81 billion of the $646 billion Americans spend annually on outdoor recreation goes toward bicycling gear and trips. Bike paths also promote health and a lower carbon footprint, he said.
Under Phase 1, estimated to cost about $120,000 to $180,000, the city will:
• Connect the Pinellas Trail on the city's west side to the Dunedin Community Center and Dunedin Fine Art Center via Michigan Boulevard. The south sidewalk will be widened to eight feet to accommodate bicycles.
• Wind the trail through Highlander Park to Patricia Avenue by way of a widened sidewalk and the paving of an existing dirt path.
• Use signs and shared-lane markings to convert former utility easements that run south on Patricia Avenue then east on McCarty Street into an on-road bike lane. The lane would end at Pinehurst Road.
Dunedin will start accepting bids from contractors Oct. 1.
Officials haven't yet determined funding sources for future phases. Phase 2, estimated at $64,000, would pick up on the other side of Pinehurst, where contractors would pave over an existing dirt path and widen the sidewalk on Solon Avenue between Pinehurst Road and County Road 1.
Campbell said the city hasn't determined whether the roughly $18,000 third phase, slated for Solon Avenue between County Road 1 and Belcher Road, will employ a widened sidewalk or on-road trail.
Richard Valentine, 64, is a Dunedin resident of 25 years who bikes at least once weekly and serves on Pinellas Trails Inc.'s board of directors.
In addition to adding to Pinellas County's low cache of east-west routes, he said, Dunedin's project will generate exposure for city attractions like the art center, especially among tourists and families with children who are most likely to use the on-road trails. It will also mean an alternative for those who want to avoid traffic or parking woes during special events at Highlander Park, he said.
Valentine said he has met cycling enthusiasts from as far as Oregon, Los Angeles and Massachusetts who vacation in Pinellas specifically because of its famed trail.
"The trail could be the second-largest draw to the county, behind the beaches," Valentine said.
That's a sentiment echoed by Friends of Florida State Parks president Sally Hess, whose group is leading a campaign to link all of Florida's bike routes and create a cross-state trail, which proponents say would beef up the potential for a booming market.
"Pinellas is key to that. Any spur you add to Pinellas just makes it that much more desirable for anybody biking or running errands or exercising," said Hess, 64, who moved to Dunedin 15 years ago in large part because of its trails. "If we get the cross-state trail all connected — and there's only 72 miles left — we'll draw people from all over the world."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or email@example.com.