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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Letter of the Day

Another transportation scheme in Pinellas County

Published:

In 1962 on my way to Marathon, I drove through Pinellas County on U.S. 19. At that time U.S. 19 was a two-lane “scenic road” with few lights controlling at grade junctions, and SR 694/Gandy Blvd was the only grade-separated junction.

In 1983 I moved to Clearwater, and U.S. 19 had expanded to four to six lanes with just three grade-separated junctions north of SR 694: 49th Street, 66th Street and SR 60/Gulf to Bay Boulevard. All other junctions were light-signal controlled at grade — a congested nightmare even then!

Every few years or so, since 1987, when I moved from Boston to Clearwater, somebody promotes a scheme to “improve” (public) transportation. And every few years or so, those schemes are abandoned in favor of ever more roads — plus never-ending traffic congestion, the inevitable outcome of Florida leaders’ love affair with urban sprawl and cars.

Simple solutions to traffic congestion in Pinellas County seem to elude so-called transportation experts. Many ideas are scuttled in favor of ever more roads in Pinellas and beyond:

Double-decking U.S. 19 would have been preferable to the present roller-coaster; a monorail over the Pinellas Trail, still a possibility for innovative thinkers; HOV loading zones out of travel lanes, a la Hillsborough County (for one); bus-rapid transit, a la Los Angeles; express buses, a la Manhattan; left turns at major junctions only, as done all over the United States; limit curb cuts and traffic lights in conjunction with left-turn limits; user (congestion) fees, a la London and elsewhere; increased parking fees and/or tax relief to encourage car pooling; mainland parking with free shuttle buses to barrier islands and beaches — etc., etc., etc.

It’s not brain surgery.

In densely populated, traffic-congested Pinellas County, it’s way past time transportation planners thought outside the box to improve one fundamental of a vibrant economy and desirable tourist destination.

Now, Pinellas voters again are challenged with a bus/rail “improvement” scheme. Policymakers have fumbled too often in the past, and this scheme has many pitfalls, not the least of which is it doesn’t go from where the people are to where the people want to go. Nor does this scheme offer viable, time-sensitive and cost-effective connections through the daily congestion of Pinellas. Note that the first item on the proposition is an (improved) bus system — a tired mantra heard too often in the past, and not realized.

I am a rail buff and public transportation believer, having experienced public systems in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle. I am very skeptical that this proposed Pinellas County scheme will ever deliver the promised improvements. History does not favor such fulfillment.

Mike MacDonald

Clearwater

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