CLEARWATER — The idea to turn Clearwater Beach's two main thoroughfares into one-way streets was already swiftly rejected in 2009, first by residents' outcries and then by the economic downturn that put most projects on hold.
But seven years later, as intense redevelopment and international attention has made the island a concrete jungle of gridlock, city officials are revisiting the concept once again.
Paul Bertels, the city's traffic operations manager, said making Coronado Drive southbound only and Hamden Drive strictly northbound would increase capacity and, in some areas, eliminate vehicle delays. The conversion would cost $10,000 in signage changes, could be done with one evening's work, and could be reversed if needed, Bertels said.
"People don't like change, but one-way pairs are a tried-and-true method of smoothing out traffic flow and eliminating congestion in urban areas," Bertels said. "And there's nothing as urban as Clearwater Beach. It's about as dense as you can get."
Computer modeling has estimated the one-way arteries could decrease the average delay per vehicle from 59 seconds to 16 seconds during the spring break peak with the current infrastructure. When 16 additional hotels currently under development orders are finally built, Bertels estimates the delay will shoot up to 8.3 minutes per vehicle if nothing is done — with one-way streets, that could be reduced to 46 seconds per vehicle, according to data provided by the city.
Still, not all beach businesses or residents are convinced.
The Clearwater Beach Association has started a Change.org petition to stop the city's efforts. Association member Anne Garris said the proposal would have a disastrous impact on the quality of life for beach residents like herself, who would be "trapped on their streets."
"(City officials) have caused an unsolvable problem by their willingness to overcrowd the island by allowing the kind of density they have allowed," Garris said. "When traffic is too much for the roads, I don't care if you're going two ways or one way, you're still not going to move. The problem is there's too many cars. Moving them at a different direction doesn't solve anything. Plain old common sense tells you that."
Garris said the effort to help day trippers get around the beach faster may appeal to tourists but would have consequences for businesses along Hamden Drive, which would be cut off from an entire direction of traffic flow.
"We're supposed to be a destination, not a place you get people through faster," she said.
Paul Andrews, general manager of Shephard's Beach Resort, said members of the Clearwater Beach Innkeepers Association are "lukewarm" to the idea and have more questions than answers.
"I don't think they have enough information on how it's going to be implemented," he said. "The big hotels that are on those streets, probably it will affect them the most because of their valet service."
But as Clearwater Beach has grown from a sleepy seaside town to a bed of international resorts, hotels and condominiums, the options of addressing congestion are few.
The city implemented a temporary subsidy of the private water taxi and Jolley Trolley this year to encourage visitors to leave their cars downtown when heading to the beach. City officials are also now entertaining proposals for an aerial cable car gondola system and a fledgling magnetic levitation system called SkyTran.
Beyond one-way pairs, Bertels said there is nothing else that can be done to existing infrastructure. The City Council is expected to vote on the one-way pairs at its regular meeting Aug. 4, and Bertels said the reality is clear:
"There's really nothing else you can do," Bertels said. "You can't build roads. You can't widen what's out there. There's not enough room to do anything else. There are no other solutions other than maybe putting people in aerial vehicles or something."
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.