Eliminating one-way streets would revitalize downtown Brooksville

Published May 20, 2013

The time has come to take back our streets, to take back our town.

They were snatched away from us — at least control of them was — at 8 o'clock one evening in March 1993, when the state Department of Transportation abruptly changed the traffic flow on Broad and Jefferson streets in downtown Brooksville from two-way to one-way.

By the time it happened, no locals liked the idea — not City Council members, not drivers, not business owners.

Too bad, DOT's engineers said: We've already spent the money on planning, the city had asked for this way back when (which, unfortunately, was true) and, most of all, one-way streets would improve traffic flow on State Road 50, U.S. 98 and U.S. 41.

So, just like that, Brooksville became a place roads went through not to. The shops and historic courthouse became scenery glimpsed from the windows of whizzing cars and rock trucks. And whizzing vehicles don't mix with strolling humans.

How many times have I heard, in the past 20 years, that to cross Jefferson Street is to take your life in your hands?

Too many times to count, which means that even if it's not technically true — I don't remember any walkers killed or seriously injured by motorists in downtown Brooksville — it sure feels that way.

And this new traffic pattern sure made it harder for Brooksville to bring about one of the small-town revivals that were starting to gather momentum all over Florida.

Why is there more going on in some of Pasco County's traditional downtowns than in Brooksville? Well, New Port Richey, which briefly considered realigning busy streets for one-way traffic 20 years ago, decided not to. A truck route carries federal highway traffic around Dade City, not through it.

A rational traffic pattern didn't bring life to these towns, but it did make liveliness possible. It's the one thing that has to happen before anything else can.

You'll also hear this from Cliff Manuel, chairman of the Brooksville Vision Foundation, which has been trying for three years to revitalize downtown and so far has accomplished next to nothing.

Manuel sounded fed up at the group's meeting last week. The foundation has to do something, he said. It has to choose a goal and accomplish it — now! After the meeting, he said restoring two-way flow through downtown is one of the projects he had in mind.

He suggested that the foundation push the city to hire a consultant to come up with a plan for two-way streets that it can take to the DOT.

I don't know if this is the right way to proceed. But this is right: Brooksville has to do something about its one-way streets other than grumble about them.

And it should do it quickly.

For one thing, the DOT now seems more committed to walkable downtowns, more aware that cities don't work like cities if their sidewalks feel like the shoulders of freeways. It's learned that if all towns are just a place that highways go through, there won't be anywhere for them to go to.