ST. PETE BEACH — Could redirecting the traffic flow in the city's downtown core bring more business to Corey Avenue merchants?
City planners think so. That's why they're proposing a one-way network of streets that surround the city's downtown retail district along Corey Avenue.
The purpose, according to Steve Hallock, the city's public services director, is to "promote quality economic development" and to "enhance alternative transportation modes and pedestrian safety."
City officials say the new traffic pattern would improve both the flow and safety of traffic at the 75th Avenue-Blind Pass intersection, eliminate the current weaving of traffic lanes on 75th Avenue, provide 60 additional on-street parking spaces along Gulf Boulevard, beautify the downtown streetscape, increase pedestrian safety, and perhaps most importantly, accelerate economic development downtown. City officials call the new traffic pattern a "couplet."
City planner Catherine Hartley likened the proposed street design to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
The state Department of Transportation has already conceptually approved the couplet plan, but before it could be put into effect, the city must conduct a comprehensive traffic operational analysis and reach a roadway sharing agreement with DOT.
Reconfiguring traffic flow in the city's downtown core, however, is not easy and is certainly controversial.
Previously, many business owners and residents alike were either strongly opposed to the plan or concerned that it would adversely affect them.
One resident who lives at the St. Pete Beach Yacht and Tennis Club on Blind Pass Road, just south of the affected area, turned in a petition with signatures from 24 other residents opposed to the plan.
"I will be negatively impacted by this. People are never going to find us. Without the tourist season none of the businesses will stay open. If you do this, that will be the end of us," Brandon Sadone, owner of PJ's Oyster Bar on W Corey Avenue, said last month.
Last week, another business owner chimed in with a more supportive viewpoint.
"We don't want to ruin the businesses we already have, but if it is going to bring business to us I am all for it," said Mark Jesperson, owner of Don't Tell Momma. Jesperson said he has been in St. Pete Beach since 1994 and has invested several million dollars into his business.
City Manager Mike Bonfield plans to hold several additional public workshops and formal hearings on the concept, adapting its final form to the result of comments and recommendations from the public.
Last week, the commission unanimously approved paying $25,125 to the engineering firm George F. Young for a detailed downtown traffic analysis, including graphics and elevation views to show the public just how a proposed one-way network of streets in the Corey Avenue area might affect traffic, pedestrians and businesses.
Currently an estimated 12,000 cars traveling north on Gulf Boulevard turn onto Blind Pass Road. The new route would reduce traffic conflicts and result in slower speeds both to the west and north.
The distance pedestrians would have to cross oncoming traffic would be cut in half. The additional parking is the equivalent of a $2 million parking garage, according to Bonfield.
The City Commission would have the final decision on whether the project would go forward.
"None of us has made any decision. We just think it is worth studying," said Commissioner Marvin Shavlan.
Bonfield said an updated study will incorporate the upcoming Blind Pass and Corey Avenue landscaping projects with the couplet design to show how the integrated improvements might benefit the city.
"We are going to conduct at least two more public hearings," Bonfield said.