DUNEDIN — The city has reversed a controversial road closure in hopes of healing a months-long community rift that pitted neighbor against neighbor.
City commissioners in March closed Patricia Avenue between McLean Street and San Salvador Drive to quell years of complaints about speeding and heavy cut-through traffic.
However, the move sparked a petition campaign that drew nearly 700 signatures from residents worried about access to and from the neighborhood during weather and medical emergencies. Some residents also complained the traffic burden had shifted to their streets.
Yet some neighbors said the decrease in traffic that resulted from the road closure made them feel safe for the first time in years.
Following comments from about 20 residents, commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday night to follow a revised staff recommendation and remove the barricades after a series of new traffic calming devices — including speed humps, stop signs, crosswalks and stepped-up law enforcement — are in place.
Officials anticipate the $125,000 plan will more evenly spread the traffic burden than previous attempts, which only moved the problem from block to block.
"There's no perfect solution to this and not everyone is going to be pleased," Vice Mayor Ron Barnette told the approximately 65 residents in attendance. "But (this plan causes) the least harm for the greatest number."
Staff with the city's traffic engineering department said they think the new speed humps will prompt most people to avoid the neighborhood. On the other hand, reopening Patricia Avenue will give residents an alternative that allows them to avoid heavy Pinehurst Road traffic, albeit at a slower pace than before.
Officials will purchase four new speed humps for Patricia. Two will be placed between Glenwood Place and McLean, one between McLean and McFarland Street and another between Robmar Street and Mary Jane Lane.
The city also will erect a multiway stop sign at Patricia and McCarty Street, forcing vehicles to come to a full halt, thus allowing pedestrians to safely use a new crosswalk at the entrance to the Harris Woods Park extension of Hammock Park.
To discourage cut-through traffic to and from Dunedin High and San Jose Elementary schools, Our Lady of Lourdes Church and the community center, officials will install multiple "No Through Traffic" signs. Seven will be placed on street corners along Pinehurst from Jackmar Road to McLean Street. An eighth sign will go up at the intersection of San Salvador and Patricia.
Commissioners asked for additional studies to determine whether speed humps, signs or other measures would best alleviate traffic that exploded following the closure on San Salvador and on the portion of Patricia that extends south to San Christopher Drive.
The recommendation also called for sidewalks on both sides of Patricia from Jackmar to McCarty, but commissioners directed staff to get residents' feedback before proceeding with the sidewalks.
In casting the lone dissenting vote, Commissioner David Carson predicted that the signs on Pinehurst would "quickly be seen for what they are — a litter of signs" because the city doesn't have enough deputies to enforce them.
"By opening this up, we're going to be right back where we are," Carson said. "I think we ought to stay closed and address San Salvador with stop signs, speed bumps, whatever it takes."
Part of the problem, Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said, is that the city looked at streets individually rather than as a whole neighborhood when it began addressing resident complaints three years ago by deploying speed bumps.
Bujalski implored residents who advocated for Patricia's reopening to empathize with those residents whose streets, studies show, have been plagued since at least 2008 with as many as 900 cars a day.
"The people that want it closed have a valid reason for wanting it closed," she said. "So I think they deserve our respect, deserve for us to listen to them and we should all try to help them rather than say 'not in my back yard.' "
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.