Clearwater Beach is growing, with hotel projects under construction or in the planning stages despite the recession, so Clearwater officials are thinking ahead about how to cope with the additional traffic that growth will bring. One proposal to improve traffic flow is to create a pair of one-way streets on the south end of the island, an idea strongly opposed by some beach residents who say the change will inconvenience them. However, public safety trumps that complaint any day. The City Council must do all it can to make traffic flow safely and efficiently on Clearwater Beach as it grows, and implementing one-way streets is a positive step toward that goal.
The south end of Clearwater Beach, which is the primary tourist area on the island, has three main north-south streets: S Gulfview Boulevard, which is closest to the beach; Coronado Drive, which is a block east of S Gulfview; and Hamden Drive, which is a block east of Coronado. Now, all three streets have two-way traffic.
The city's traffic planners are recommending that the City Council make Coronado a one-way street southbound and Hamden a one-way street northbound. S Gulfview would continue to carry two-way traffic, which is appropriate for that winding scenic corridor.
The suggestion for the one-way pair is nothing new. In fact, according to city traffic operations manager Paul Bertels, the city's traffic engineers have been recommending the one-way streets for 36 years, convinced that traffic would move more efficiently, even during high tourist season.
Now there is an additional reason to consider the one-way pair. The Hyatt Aqualea Hotel will open within weeks and the exit from its 750-space garage is on Coronado. The city plans to build a 300-space garage next door with its exit also on Coronado. And the Patel surface parking lot is on Coronado, too. City officials are worried about allowing traffic from those parking facilities to turn left across heavy Coronado traffic. They say the risk of accidents would be lessened if Coronado were one way and traffic leaving the parking facilities were forced to exit to the right.
City Council members discussed the proposal at their Monday work session, and though all five seemed ready to support the one-way pair, they had a major concern. They acknowledged that Hamden Drive, which is narrow and rough, is not in a condition to handle four times the traffic it does now. But if they want it repaved, the work cannot be done before spring break 2010. The Hyatt Aqualea will be open by then and adding to the already crushing traffic load that accompanies every spring break.
By the end of Monday's discussion, council members had sketched out a scenario for further consideration at their regular meeting Thursday night: Erect temporary barriers at the Aqualea and Patel parking exits that would force motorists to turn right and go south, rather than trying to cross oncoming traffic on Coronado, and delay the implementation of the one-way pair until after Hamden has been repaved and its crosswalks improved.
Though that likely sets up traffic nightmares for the coming spring break, it is the most reasonable option. It would be disruptive — and council members would be roundly criticized — if they routed all that additional traffic onto Hamden, only to shut down portions of it to repave it.
On Thursday, the public will get its chance to comment on the idea. Residents of three "finger" streets off Hamden are expected to oppose the plan because it would force them to turn north when they leave their neighborhood, even if they want to go south, and because it would move more traffic onto Hamden.
Residents of the beach tourist area indeed may be inconvenienced, but surely they, too, understand that the safety of all motorists on Clearwater Beach must be the council's priority.