The idea of creating one-way streets on Clearwater Beach has come up in the past, but never with as much reason for moving ahead as now. Two big parking garages are being built side by side on S Gulfview Boulevard, both with their exits in the back onto Coronado Drive. The specter of hundreds of cars exiting the garages at the same time and trying to turn left across Coronado Drive to exit the beach has City Council members so worried they are seriously considering one-way streets on the south end of the island.
And for what better reason than safety? During the 1970s and '80s, city officials thought about converting two-way streets to one-way streets in what would have been a wrong-headed approach to discouraging teens from noisily cruising the beach streets. A few years ago, the idea of one-way streets surfaced again when a would-be hotel developer said S Gulfview Boulevard should be converted to one way to reduce traffic noise so guests wouldn't be disturbed. No way, said the city.
But now, the city has legitimate reasons to embrace one-way streets: safety and traffic flow. The new Hyatt Aqualea Resort garage will have 750 spaces. The new city garage next door will have 300 spaces. On holidays, during spring break or other popular beach occasions, and for major hotel events, the new garages probably will be full and many motorists could depart at the same time. Most of those cars likely would want to head toward the beach roundabout and the mainland, which means making a left turn onto Coronado from the garages.
It is not difficult to imagine that accidents will occur, cars will back up into the garages, traffic on Coronado will be stopped or slowed, and eventually, police officers will have to be posted there to direct traffic.
Instead, City Council members asked the city staff to analyze the idea of converting Coronado to a one-way street headed south and converting Hamden Drive, which is one block east of Coronado, to a one-way street heading north. That would require all traffic exiting the garages to make a right turn onto Coronado and then loop around onto either Hamden or S Gulfview to get back to the roundabout and Memorial Causeway.
S Gulfview Boulevard, the premier beachfront street, would remain a two-way street.
The city's traffic operations manager, Paul Bertels, said the change would improve traffic flow and could be easily accomplished with some restriping and new signs. The city will hold a meeting on Clearwater Beach to discuss the idea.
One-way streets improve traffic flow and reduce accidents — anyone who has visited St. Petersburg and driven its one-way grid can see the difference. Making Hamden and Coronado one-way streets would bring order to what can be a chaotic traffic situation on Clearwater Beach during busy times.
Business owners often object to having two-way streets converted to one way if fewer cars will go past their businesses. Bertels' analysis showed traffic on Hamden would be increased by a change to one way, but it would be reduced on Coronado. Owners of businesses on Coronado may object to the city's proposal, but their concerns cannot be allowed to trump safety.