Thursday, December 14, 2017
Transportation

Ideas for fixing up U.S. 19 corridor range from the realistic to the wacky

CLEARWATER — So U.S. 19 is yours. You can do with it what you want.

What would you add, redesign, remove? (If, you know, "other drivers" is not an option.)

That's the question the city put to commuters about one of its most notorious roadways, now undergoing a $200 million makeover.

Officials want to spruce up the sprawling muck of strip malls that runs along the highway, and are paying a consultant $130,000 for help with some big ideas.

But some of the more interesting — and perhaps improbable — ideas have come from the commuters themselves, through a city-organized "virtual town hall" at myus19plan.com.

Many are mundane — wider lanes, fewer stoplights — while others tend toward the fanciful or futuristic.

One person suggested building a mountain bike park with earthen nature trails near the highway. Another suggested installing "piezoelectric sensors" that convert road vibrations into electricity.

Officials shared some early ideas at an open house this week and will present them to the City Council on Monday.

Their ideas have tended toward a more general transformation, like focusing investment on big U.S. 19 crossroads like Countryside and Gulf-to-Bay boulevards and Sunset Point, Belleair and Curlew roads.

Commuters' ideas, however, are all over the map. People suggested everything from "opening the valve" with better-synchronized stoplights and changing "goofy laws on signage" that make it hard to find where you're going, to uprooting one specific "Stonehenge of power poles" near Seville Drive.

The road itself, some suggested, could use a carpool lane, and the underpasses could be prettied up with lights and landscaping. Some just wanted the city to tear down the dead shopping plazas and gas stations that gunk up the roadsides.

Several ideas focused on mass transit, with suggestions to add bus lanes for loading and unloading passengers, or expanding the range of the waterfront Jolley Trolley. One person suggested building an elevated monorail system, like the one at Walt Disney World, in the median with tram stops every half-mile.

Pedestrians were part of the action, too, with ideas for road-crossing overpasses and more tree canopies for sidewalk shade. One respondent recommended installing "moving sidewalks," so you wouldn't need your car when going shopping next door.

One suggestion was "more people-places of inviting sidewalks, gateways, art, plazas, parks, portals and markets." Another, a "free cement skatepark" close to Westfield Countryside Mall.

There's no promise any of the 75 or so ideas posted by drivers since March will become part of the city's plan. Some have a better chance than others.

One driver had a different idea about how to improve the highway.

"Driver's licenses," she said, "are too easily renewed."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected] Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

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