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Plan aims to make Pinellas Trail crossing safer

For Marty and Betty McKane, bicycling along the Pinellas Trail in Dunedin is usually a peaceful and stress-free excuse to get some exercise _ until the time comes to cross Skinner Boulevard.

"There's a very narrow area," said Marty McKane, a Dunedin resident. "If you got caught (in the middle) with traffic going both ways, it can be difficult to get by."

On Monday, the McKanes were lucky _ they crossed the stretch without incident.

Other days are different as trail users routinely attempt to cross Skinner, only to be trapped in the middle of the road by a sudden stream of oncoming traffic.

Now city leaders want to take the anxiety out of crossing Skinner Boulevard. They are considering building a special crosswalk equipped with a decorative island in the middle of the road to help protect pedestrians.

"That crossing at Skinner is a big, wide street," said Commissioner Deborah Kynes. "I've had trouble getting across it."

Two years ago, Kynes came up with the idea for a special crossing there. She based it on designs she had seen in Europe and asked the city staff to help develop a similar type of crosswalk in Dunedin.

"I wanted to know if it would work," she added. "It's functional, but it could also be decorative and protect the public as they walk or bring their bicycles across."

The proposed crosswalk is part of a larger, $275,000 streetscaping project the city is planning along the portions of Skinner Boulevard and Alt. U.S. 19 that lead into the city from the west and north respectively.

The city plans to use a Florida Department of Transportation grant and Penny for Pinellas tax money to pay for the project that could begin as early as summer and be completed by September.

This week Bob Ironsmith, the city's economic development director, will present DOT officials with the plans to introduce an island of upright medians, handrails, bollards and landscaping to the Skinner crosswalk.

"We see a lot of people from the North who want to use the downtown," said Ironsmith. "Sometimes (Skinner) can act as a barrier and people are a little bit hesitant to cross."

Ben Brubaker is one of them.

"It would be much safer to use that island," the Largo resident said. "Anything to make it safer for us and the drivers, because we're all using the roadway."

But first the city needs permission from the DOT to do streetscaping and build the crosswalk, since the agency controls the right of ways along Skinner and Alt. U.S. 19.

Ironsmith said he expects DOT officials to rule on the proposed project in the coming weeks.

"If we can obtain DOT approval and go with the concept plan it will allow us to continue to build on the success of the trail," Ironsmith said. "So we really think we're doing okay."

_ Leon M. Tucker can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or tuckersptimes.com.

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