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DOT can heal ill will by backing bulb-outs

Some people in Brooksville blame the state Department of Transportation for hampering efforts to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Proponents of revitalizing the central shopping district could not stop the DOT's plan, endorsed by a former City Council, to make Broad Street and Jefferson Street one-way routes. The higher-speed traffic that resulted compelled city leaders in 1993 to come up with new ideas to make the area more accessible and to rejuvenate the downtown economy.

One of those suggestions was to build bulb-outs, which are rounded, half-circle curbs that extend into streets at pedestrian crossings. Over the past seven years the idea has been alternately ignored because of apathy or politics, or mishandled because of bureaucracy and lack of money.

Now, in a scenario that holds a certain amount of irony, the city is using a $60,000 allotment from the county Metropolitan Planning Organization to resurrect the bulb-out concept, and to persuade the DOT to award the city a $600,000 federal grant. The city is hopeful the bulb-outs will give it an advantage in obtaining the federal grant, which the DOT administers.

If the DOT comes through, it could heal some of the ill will that still exists over the one-way pairings. More important, it will be one of the most visible steps the council has taken toward reviving an area of the city that has been the focus of more talk than action for the past 15 years.

Transportation enhancement funds, as the DOT calls them, are used to build sidewalks and other amenities that make it easier for pedestrians to move about. By any planner's definition, such projects are necessary to encourage walking traffic in urban areas. That is especially true in Brooksville, where the one-way pairings and the imposing county government complex have cut through the heart of what once was a quaint, but active, shopping area. Several longtime businesses have closed since those intrusions, and many more have opened and closed in failed attempts to create a niche in the small-town economy.

The bulb-outs being considered now would be along Main Street, at Fort Dade Avenue, Jefferson Street, Broad Street, Liberty Street and Brooksville Avenue. That route is the spine of a still-struggling economic district that includes antique stores, restaurants, gift shops and the like.

Of course, making it easier for pedestrians to move around is just one ingredient in the council's recipe for improvement. A bulb-out on every corner will not be enough to bring visitors downtown unless the city also is willing to create more parking and to regulate the flow of traffic along Broad and Jefferson streets.

Specifically, the city should resolve to strictly enforce speed limits, especially on commercial truck traffic. Also, when the county government gets its public transportation buses up and running, the council should invest some of its enhancement funds in an attractive, safe bus stop that contains a directory of the city and its attractions. Downtown businesses could chip in to have their locations included.

For now, though, we urge the DOT to consider the bulb-out project as a concrete (excuse the pun) first step that indicates the city will be responsible stewards of the federal grant.