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For drivers in Temple Terrace, there's no going back

There are 31 no-U-turn signs along a 1 ½-mile stretch of 56th Street, from Riverhills Drive to Whiteway Drive, in Temple Terrace. The street is the city’s main north-south road.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

There are 31 no-U-turn signs along a 1 ½-mile stretch of 56th Street, from Riverhills Drive to Whiteway Drive, in Temple Terrace. The street is the city’s main north-south road.

TEMPLE TERRACE — Drivers might think of Temple Terrace as the city of red-light cameras.

It was the first community in Hillsborough County to install the traffic devices. But before the city made motorists stop and think before turning right on red, there was the U-turn issue.

Making a U-turn on 56th Street, the main road into the city, is tricky. Every block or so has signs prohibiting U-turns, and it's every half a block in some places. The 1 1/2-mile stretch from Riverhills Drive to Whiteway Drive has 31 of them.

For some, a new level of aggravation over the lack of U-turns came when a new post office opened.

Longtime residents know the back roads and best places to circle around, but newcomers might be bewildered if they feel the urge to turn back.

"If you don't live here, it can get pretty confusing, very confusing," said Kenneth Harsell, 70, a retired electrical engineer who moved to Temple Terrace four years ago and had trouble adjusting. "You can rack up a lot of wasted mileage, so to speak, until you know where you're going."

The city asked the state Department of Transportation to install the signs 30 years ago. The four-lane highway has 12-foot lanes and medians ranging from 4 to 16 feet — wide enough for vehicles to pass safely but too narrow for U-turns, said Kevin Dunn, a sign engineer at the DOT's Tampa office. Engineers prefer medians that are 28 feet wide.

Drivers on 56th Street can end up traveling a mile out of the way before finding a safe spot to turn around. North of Whiteway Drive, the street broadens to allow U-turns, and U-turns aren't a problem south of the Hillsborough River in Tampa. But between those points, it can be frustrating.

Just ask Mike Hinchee, who has lived here 53 years.

"It's ridiculous. I mean, how many signs can you put up on one road?" said Hinchee, 58. "It's easy for someone like me. I know where I need to go to get turned around. But for someone who doesn't live around here, I imagine it's a real pain in the neck."

Even with signs in place, police say frustrated motorists still try the maneuver. The fine in Temple Terrace for illegal U-turns is $153. The city handed out $5,814 in U-turn violations during the past budget year, most stemming from 56th Street, city spokesman Mike Dunn said.

Meanwhile, motorists like Sarah Canon, 25, who moved from Crown Point, Ind., two years ago, just shake their heads and push on until they find a place to turn around.

A note to newcomers: Circling the block isn't always an option. "There's a lot of streets that don't go through, and you'll think it might connect to what you're looking for, and then it doesn't," Canon said.

Lois Camero, 61, said she loves Temple Terrace but concedes that driving in the city requires some patience.

The parking situation at the new post office, which opened in May on Chicago Avenue near the intersection of Springdale Place, is the latest challenge, she said.

Drivers pull directly into spaces off Chicago Avenue because the post office has street parking but no parking lot. Motorists heading to the Sweetbay plaza have to stop as other drivers leaving the post office back directly onto the street.

"Why they put the post office there, I have no clue," Camero said.

But what confounds Katherine Johnson, 20, most is the sheer number of traffic issues — from circuitous neighborhood streets with speed humps to red-light cameras and no-U-turn signs to the strict enforcement of traffic laws.

It can give drivers, especially those unfamiliar with Temple Terrace, a headache.

"Welcome to Temple Terrace," Johnson said. "Now be careful because they'll catch you."

For drivers in Temple Terrace, there's no going back 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 3:30am]

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