CLEARWATER — For the fourth time in 40 years, an attempt to convert Clearwater Beach's two main arteries into one-way streets was shot down by skeptical residents.
When the idea was revived this year to alleviate the infamous beach traffic, city staff ran computer simulations showing a southbound-only Coronado Drive and a northbound Hamden Drive could drastically improve delays. After the 16 additional hotels currently under development orders are built, delays could shoot to 8.3 minutes per vehicle if nothing is done — with one-way streets, that could be reduced to 46 seconds per vehicle, according to traffic operations manager Paul Bertels.
But when the City Council took up the issue at Thursday's meeting, beach residents showed up in force against the plan, some in neon green T-shirts reading 'No way, one way.' After two hours of discussion, the Council voted 4-1, with Mayor George Cretekos in opposition, to drop the idea that began with 3-2 support.
"We don't want to hear you come back to us saying 'do something about the traffic,' because that magic wand that we would want to have to eliminate any traffic delay just doesn't work," Cretekos said.
The council, however, unanimously approved pedestrian barriers along Coronado to the south end of the roundabout to block jaywalkers who bring traffic to a halt.
Council members Doreen Caudell and Hoyt Hamilton began the discussion in favor of a five-month test of the one-way streets to start in January. The conversion would cost $10,000 in signage changes and is reversible.
But after residents got up to speak, every one passionately against the idea, Caudell and Hamilton changed their votes.
"We're trying to do everything we can, but ... deny the one way pairs because that's what they want," Caudell said.
Residents were united on reasons for rejecting the idea, most explaining a different configuration won't solve the real problem of too many cars on the island.
"Only barring the increase in roadway capacity or reduction in traffic, you're never going to solve the issues," beach resident Reed Hayden said, adding the one-way streets would ruin the walkability of Hamden Drive, hurting the boutique quality of the small motels and shops.
Forty-year beach resident James A. Martin said if the trial period began after the hotel construction finished, the city would never really know whether the one-way streets or elimination of construction barriers helped the situation.
Still, Hamilton, whose family has owned the Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill and Bar for more than 40 years, said he does not believe one-way streets are dead.
"Do the experiment so we have verifiable facts, verifiable data and we can once and for all put it to bed one way or another," Hamilton said. "It might not be nearly as bad as you think it's going to be but we can't prove it one way or another without doing it."
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Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.