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Tarpon leaders want to make downtown trail crossing safer

Carl Shepherd, 66, waits on Wednesday to cross Tarpon Avenue at Stafford Avenue on the Pinellas Trail. “It’s a very dangerous corner,” he says of the intersection he rides through every day.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Carl Shepherd, 66, waits on Wednesday to cross Tarpon Avenue at Stafford Avenue on the Pinellas Trail. “It’s a very dangerous corner,” he says of the intersection he rides through every day.

TARPON SPRINGS — A speed study done by the city tells the story of why Pinellas Trail users take their lives in their hands when they try to cross Tarpon Avenue downtown.

For one week in February, police checked how fast cars were moving when eastbound on Tarpon Avenue, downtown's main drag. Twenty-nine percent of the vehicles exceeded the 25 mph speed limit — some by a lot. The highest speed clocked: 58 mph.

The next week, they studied the speed of westbound traffic and found the numbers were worse: 43 percent drove faster than the 25 mph limit, and the highest speed was 68 mph.

Add to speed the fact that Tarpon Avenue is narrow, cars park along both sides, and the trail crossing is at the bottom of a hill, and it's clear why Tarpon commissioners have spent considerable time talking about how to make the crossing safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

"Someone's going to get killed," said an audience member who spoke up during the commission's discussion this week. He called for more police presence on Tarpon Avenue to try to slow down drivers.

The city has $100,000 set aside for solutions. Commissioners and staff just needed to decide which solutions to use and where to install them.

After hearing a presentation from city staffers Tuesday, commissioners agreed on a list of solutions, but a few want to see drawings before the work goes out for bid. Included on the list are:

• Reducing the speed limit to 15 or 20 mph on the stretch from Hibiscus Avenue to just east of Ring Avenue.

• Installing Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons at the intersection of Tarpon and Safford avenues, where the trail crosses. The devices remain dark until a button is pushed by someone who wants to cross, then they emit rapid bursts of light to warn approaching motorists to stop. A pair of the devices costs $5,500 to $7,500.

• Placing radar speed feedback signs, which tell approaching motorists how fast they are going, at the approaches to downtown. The devices cost $4,000 each and cause 80 percent of motorists to slow down, according to manufacturers.

• Erecting railroad crossing mast arms on Tarpon Avenue to better designate where the trail crosses. The mast arms would cost $25,000 each and advertising could be attached to them.

According to city staff, Dunedin has made effective use of mast arms and Largo has used solar-powered Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons at pedestrian crossings on Clearwater-Largo Road.

Mayor David Archie wanted to know if Largo had any problems with its beacons. He was told the only problem was getting replacement parts from Japan after the earthquake and tsunami there, but another source for supplies has since been found.

The city staff wants to run its ideas past the county Metropolitan Planning Organization. A consultant will complete the design of the project, then the project will be advertised for bids, a process that could take about three months. Once a contractor is selected, staff estimates the installation will take two to three months.

Commissioners said they want the work finished, if possible, before tourist season begins in the fall. "We'll rush it," responded City Manager Mark LeCouris.

Diane Steinle can be reached at (727) 445-4184 or dsteinle@tampabay.com. To submit a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Tarpon leaders want to make downtown trail crossing safer 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 8:05pm]
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