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North Pinellas letters: Beach shuttle idea is off mark

Budget cuts could jeopardize educational programs at the county’s nature parks, such as this one in 2007 that helped  introduce preschoolers to the wonders of the natural world at Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Center.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2007)

Budget cuts could jeopardize educational programs at the county’s nature parks, such as this one in 2007 that helped introduce preschoolers to the wonders of the natural world at Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Center.

Beach shuttle idea is off mark

Clearwater is considering spending $5-million to $6-million to buy four new shuttle buses and to construct a dedicated lane for them on the Memorial Causeway. This shuttle would function essentially as a weekend-only service due to the restricted availability of the downtown parking location.

Let's think this through. A shuttle that drops everyone off at one fixed point, such as the pier, only serves those going to the pier. It's a half mile to the south end of the sand, and a half mile up to the Rockaway area. That's a long way to lug a load of beach stuff. And what happens when the weather turns and everyone heads for the mainland at the same time?

The idea of parking downtown and then riding to the beach is not intuitive. Regular local beachgoers will know of this option, but for everyone else, the default behavior will be to go straight to the beach and then look for parking. But regular local beachgoers are the folks most accustomed to the convenience of beachfront parking. This makes them the demographic least likely to embrace the "park/ride/lug" option.

So now the target market for the shuttle has been narrowed down to those local beachgoers who are content to be restricted to the pier area, and who aren't lugging too much stuff, and don't have special needs, and don't have some other aversion to the idea.

On a busy weekend in season, when the shuttles' value will supposedly be seen, the beach fills up with 400 to 500 vehicles in about three hours. Despite favorable traffic lights and roundabout primacy, the shuttles are going to get mired in some of that gridlock.

Think about logistics at the garage, and load/unload times at both ends of the route, and traffic realities. How many round trips can each shuttle make during the three-hour crunch time? For how many of those 400 to 500 vehicles will the shuttles be a viable alternative?

And then there is the biggest "target market narrower" of all: cost.

Regular local beachgoers are not going to pay a prohibitive cost for the shuttle. I think the "park/ride/lug" option would have to be free, or close to it, or else locals are simply going to opt for the convenience of parking on the beach. Given the likelihood of minimal cost recovery, is a $5-million to $6-million investment for this idea, in these budget-constrained times, wise?

The beach shuttle option is a secondary, supportive parking solution at best. A cost-benefit analysis is needed to determine whether the effort is justified, but frankly, I believe the Jolley Trolley was a defacto test-marketing of this idea. It didn't fly.

The primary focus of the city should be on the parking garage option. Before Mayor Frank Hibbard embraced this beach shuttle idea, he was a proponent of a plan with much promise. He called for two medium garages, one each on north and south beach. He suggested that these garages be a block away from the sand, and he noted that the realities of the real estate market may work to the city's advantage in the near future.

Mayor Hibbard was on the right track with the garage plan. The beach shuttle idea is a turn in the wrong direction. I urge the city to continue exploring a sensible garage solution to the beach parking problem.

Dave Spath, Clearwater

Re: Parks worth the price | editorial, March 5

Nature parks shouldn't be cut

The editorial was right on the importance of saving our natural places in times of budget cuts. But I also worry about nature parks and educational centers, both countywide (Weedon Island, Brooker Creek) and in the cities (McGough Park in Largo, Moccasin Lake Park in Clearwater, Hammock Park in Dunedin and Boyd Hill Park in St. Petersburg).

The nature parks have a higher maintenance cost than regular parks with their buildings, educational facilities and teachers who run invaluable learning programs for adults and children. Volunteers help out, but without the staff and facilities in these nature parks to lead the way, we would lose the educational benefits offered to our children and the peace that comes when anyone finds solace in the out-of-doors and learns something about it at the same time. Nature centers give us all instruction in a sense of place, a sense of what Florida really is.

Most people agree that services such as firefighters and police are vital, as is garbage pickup, clean water delivery, sewage disposal, and electrical and gas power availability. I would argue that parks are needed as well, especially nature parks with their educational benefits to give us all a sense of where we live.

I think that our government leaders are having a difficult time trying to decide what to cut. These nature parks are an easy target since they cost more to run than other parks and they do not bring in as much revenue as recreational facilities do. I would hope that the need to cut budgets would not lead to the need to cut nature parks. We need our nature parks to remind us of where we are.

Jane Williams, Clearwater

Re: Settlement for girl's death is disturbing | letter, March 11

Are teachers really underpaid?

The other day, a letter appeared in your section bemoaning the fact that there would be compensation for the family of a young girl killed in a school bus mishap. The writer specifically stated that the money would not bring the young lady back and with the situation today of underpaid teachers and programs being cut, it seemed not to be a good fit in his mind.

What that writer failed to mention was that had it not been for school choice and the utter chaos it created, not to mention the $41-million to $51-million it cost each year to implement, this young lady would not have died.

Incidentally, just exactly what does underpaid mean? With starting salaries of $37,000 for teachers with an undergraduate degree and no national certification, and adding another $13,000 for benefits, which would equal $50,000 for a state with no income tax and property owners being taxed additionally because a referendum told us we had to, are we on the same sheet of music here?

You might want to do a breakdown of salaries with commensurate education and be very specific about the teaching profession. The wonderful teachers I know do not moan and groan about their salaries and they love their jobs. Perhaps all this new "gimme" is the result of the "me" generation, which speaks for itself.

Please, those teachers who feel they are victimized and drag in to teach our children every day, find something else to do. Those of you who like children and enjoy teaching them, stick around please. How great it is to love your job. And it is a critically important one. Thanks to those who are dedicated.

H. Sherwood, Clearwater

New Countryside facility welcome

Finally the players and fans of Countryside Little League are able to go to the restroom without missing half of the game. Countryside families cheered when the new clubhouse facility was unveiled March 1 at the opening day of baseball season. The 300-plus Countryside families were delighted with the beautiful addition to the baseball complex. The new building provides a commercial grade concession, significant storage, a meeting room, offices and most importantly, bathrooms.

This project took almost a decade to complete. To the credit of the city of Clearwater, Pinellas County, Clearwater for Youth Foundation, a state grant and Countryside residents, the funding and building became a reality.

Was there a press release by the city to the media? Of course not! Once again, if it doesn't concern downtown or the beach, the media will not cover it.

We in Countryside now have one more sanitary facility to be built, at Forest Run Park. The Progress Energy Trail and Landmark Trail, when built, will bring even greater use to this park.

John Wiser, Clearwater

North Pinellas letters: Beach shuttle idea is off mark 03/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 8:57pm]
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