A Walk on the Streets of Largo

I set out on a warm and sunny winter day after work, before the next cold front arrives, to meet the dual objectives of exercise and to enjoy social interaction at a local gathering spot in nearby Largo. It’s a 1.3 mile walk from my place in Belleair Bluffs along West Bay Drive to the Barley Mow, one of Pinellas County’s many excellent breweries. Walks like this help to compensate for lapses in the healthy diet I’ve generally tried to maintain since moving here.

I also like taking these walks in different parts of Pinellas County to see what’s working well and not so well in terms of development, safety and accessibility from a perspective of the user. There’s no substitute for experience using all forms of the transportation network, whether as a pedestrian, cyclist, transit rider, emergency responder, or car and truck driver.

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The Pinellas Trail at West Bay Drive in Largo. The trail lacks any direct access by bicycle, undermining its value to the City’s emerging downtown district.

 

In that short 26-minute jaunt to the pub at sunset in the daylight, and on my return in the dark twilight of evening, I witnessed a crazy combination of errors, unlawfulness and omissions that I think typify Pinellas County and Florida:

Car drivers making left turn lanes across traffic directly into my path as I crossed a driveway entrance and a marked crosswalk, with one driver using the full lane of approaching traffic to speed in front of me walking in the middle of the intersection. I’m either invisible or do not matter.

A middle-age couple on bicycles, clad in the black-gray colors of pavement with very dim lights riding on the sidewalk in the opposite direction of traffic. At least they had helmets for the inevitable crash.

Two incidents of road rage, with curses shouted and horns blaring, including a situation in which the inconvenienced motorist whipped into an aggressive u-turn to chase and further harass the offending driver. We so need Open Carry legislation.

One limping pedestrian trying to run awkwardly across five lanes of traffic as approaching westbound traffic rapidly bore down on him. He made it, his heart surely racing. The least among us….

Multiple high-speed curb designs on West Bay Drive to driveways and residential side streets that enable fast right turns by cars. They made me uncomfortable proceeding without stopping to look over my shoulder for overtaking right-turning vehicles. Such a design clearly sends a signal about who has priority.

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Note the angle favoring fast-moving right-turning traffic. Pedestrians better keep their head on a swivel.

Two older bicyclists waiting patiently at the traffic signal to cross busy West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road, both apparently traveling with purpose. All the bicyclists I saw were on the sidewalk, a crash-prone area where people ride out of fear of an even worse crash in traffic.

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Clearwater-Largo Road and West Bay Drive is a busy multimodal intersection in the City of Largo’s emerging downtown district. The Publix grocery and other nearby retail and medical office uses attract many pedestrians and bicyclists and it’s on PSTA’s Route 52.

Good use and timing of pedestrian signals activated by the people waiting to cross busy roadways with well-marked crosswalks. We have at least cultivated a sense of patience among pedestrians if not drivers.

And while I’d experienced it a few times earlier on my bike, I was reminded how big a disconnect we have between the Pinellas Trail and businesses along West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road in Largo. This is the City’s designated downtown district, and we limit access to and from the trail as if it’s a restricted access highway like I-275 or US 19.

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East-west access to the Pinellas Trail in Largo is what you make of it. A local street stubs out at this user-defined access point. We can do better.

Walk any one mile stretch of urban arterial in Pinellas County and you’ll see many of the same things. Gandy/Park Blvd., Ulmerton Road, Alt US 19, 49th Street, 66th Street, Gulf to Bay, Seminole, 580/Main Street, and 4th Street, we have many corridors that exhibit this Wild West flavor, where being on the defensive takes on a different but eerily similar meaning to the days of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The missed opportunity is that there’s revenue to generate for businesses and create expanded economic opportunity for people that springs from better access. But we sacrifice it for mobility…the speed to get from point A to point B as quickly as practical. We in Pinellas County are losing out on a lot of economic potential by neglecting the importance of access. We do that by favoring the perceived economic gains from rapidly moving cars through areas rather than connecting people to areas.

The point is, in our urban environment with precious little room left for new development or new and wider roadways, we need to get the most out of what we’ve got. We’ve spent millions building sidewalks, trails, safer intersections, and nicer corridors, but we still kill or seriously injure hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians a year. We have great destinations but we are a county that is among the highest crash rates for vulnerable road users. We need a new approach.

That’s in part because we often miss the little details of access that undermine walkability, bicycle-friendliness and transit attractiveness in our communities. Too often we respond with solutions that are one-dimensional and short-sighted, which fail to make the bigger connections necessary for travel choices, economic competitiveness and continued vitality.

We are taking a Vision Zero approach to safety in partnership with local agencies and the Florida Department of Transportation, with an initial focus on Gulf Boulevard that we hope will yield insights and applications for elsewhere in Pinellas County. Vision Zero means a real commitment to safety, with investment in the “Five Es” of education, engineering, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation to reduce our fatalities and severe crashes and keep them low. I’ll add a sixth E for equity, which is also very important in addressing the needs of people who must walk, bike or take transit because they lack other options.

If we are to become distinctive as an urban county that works, that functions well, and serves the needs of all its citizens and communities, then we have to do better in those key areas to support our land use and transportation system. We have to clearly define our vision, desired outcomes (e.g., zero fatalities) and the strategies for making them happen. That will take time and a commitment to results among all our partners.

 

10 Responses to “A Walk on the Streets of Largo”

  1. Patti Johnson

    Once again I will try to get the message through to you that at least some of the trail needs to be accessible to horse riding. There are over 5 thousand riders in Pinellas County. It is much scarier to be approached by speeding bicycles than a walking horse. The clean up argument is not any different than from any dog.

    Reply
  2. Teresa Brydon

    Thank you for your observations along West Bay Drive and the Pinellas Trail head that transverses downtown Largo. The City and the CRA have also recognized many of the issues that you have identified and we are working towards correcting those that we have the ability to modify. For example, in the coming weeks, City staff will be in front of the Largo City Commission with the next steps in our plan to improve the access points and enhance the Pinellas Trail that is in the downtown area. We are hopefully that the Commission will approve the scope and fee’s associated with the final design and build of the project. In our Capital Improvement Program, the segment of West Bay Drive roadway that runs from Clearwater Largo Road to 20th Street NW is scheduled for improvement that bring it up to the pedestrian/bike standards that Largo has identified under the Downtown Multimodal Plan. All exciting things to come for this area and we look forward to having your thoughts on it in the future!

    Reply
    • Whit Blanton, FAICP

      Thank you for the update! That’s great news and progress. We will stay tuned.

      Reply
  3. Bert Valery

    Whit , You were at the BAC mtg on Mon. and saw/heard the response of DOT/Co Pub Wks when I asked ” how can these roads still be designed with only cars in mind when we have had this oversight committee for 30 yrs ” ?? I do believe those at the TOP and the Bottom get the message , but the employees/supers who do design phase are still focusing on motor vehicles , not Peds and bikes . So , how do we change their mindset ? Bert

    On 2/24/2016 12:10 AM, Pinellas Planning Council / Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization wrote: > WordPress.com > Whit Blanton, FAICP posted: “I set out on a warm and sunny winter day > after work, before the next cold front arrives, to meet the dual > objectives of exercise and to enjoy social interaction at a local > gathering spot in nearby Largo. It’s a 1.3 mile walk from my place in > Belleair Bluf” >

    Reply
  4. Neil McMullen

    Hi Whit, Whoa mon, what a list of “challenges.” I’m pleased you lived to tell the tail. FYI, though you are presently correct about the bike “non-access” from the Trail to Largo, even as I type, this is on the Largo Community Development’s docket with plans pretty much in hand to connect up as I understand from my stint on the Community Development Advisory Board.

    Yes, Ped crossing signals would improve the quality of life (perhaps life itself would be a little more certain) at the points you mentioned. I’m working with a resident of a mobile home park located just south of Bay on the east side of Starkey. She represents others in the park and the one next door. They want a safe(r) way to cross Starkey to the west side to eat at the Acropolis Restaurant (evidently pretty popular with the two mobile home parks on Starkey’s east side.

    A Starkey improvement project from Park Blvd. to Bay (and perhaps on north) fell off the TIP priority back during the recession. It has not reappeared, meaning unless money is found and the project gets re-prioritized, nada nada nada will happen for the next 8 years or so. Starkey from Bay to Ulmerton is a dragway (posted 45 but……) with “goat paths” for what pass as sidewalks in long sections on either side of the road. The unpaved “goat path” trails flood when it rains. County says though a Ped crossing signal is possible (meaning “funding available”), they maintain it isn’t their problem – because they are aware of the problems and have already done the crossing counts but that stretch doesn’t qualify – and because County “shares the road” with Largo in that stretch. I haven’t approached Largo Public Works yet but will. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of senior citizens in two mobile home parks who are pretty much forced to play bumper car roulette getting on Starkey – particularly if the Bay light is green – or, if they are on foot, to place themselves at some risk crossing Starkey east side to west side in a stretch of fast moving traffic.

    In interest of full disclosure, I’m running for Largo Commission, Seat 3. That said, I don’t think you’ll find a native familiar with that area who would disagree with my summation or who wouldn’t feel sympathy for the local’s situation. Can anything helpful to the foot-borne be done to facilitate an E/W Starkey crossing? (other than to encourage them to keep making payments on their life insurance?)

    Thanks, Neil

    On Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 12:10 AM, Pinellas Planning Council / Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization wrote:

    > Whit Blanton, FAICP posted: “I set out on a warm and sunny winter day > after work, before the next cold front arrives, to meet the dual objectives > of exercise and to enjoy social interaction at a local gathering spot in > nearby Largo. It’s a 1.3 mile walk from my place in Belleair Bluf” >

    Reply
  5. Mike Siebel

    Whit, thanks for taking a personal interest in bicycle and pedestrian travel in our county. Having you involved in these discussions and issues opens up a new avenue of access in the existing decision making process. We look forward to your continued involvement. Mike Siebel, BPAC, Auxiliary Ranger.

    Reply
  6. D Jaramillo

    If you approach from the west side of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail – I guess you could assume there was no access from West Bay Drive.

    But, if you walk to the EAST side of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail overpass at West Bay Drive – you will find a sidewalk that runs back to the beginning of the overpass ramps and a set of stairs just off the West Bay Drive sidewalks. This is on both the north and south sides of West Bay Drive. You can see them on Google.

    The stairs and ramps were installed during construction of the overpass to allow access between the Pinellas Trail and West Bay Drive – and provide a “pedestrian” crossing across West Bay Drive. A very nice bus stop shelter has been added to the north side of West Bay Drive – by the McDonald’s.

    Reply
    • Whit Blanton, FAICP

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve used that sidewalk. Good for pedestrians, but it doesn’t work for seamless bicycle travel.

      Reply
  7. Kevin Dort

    I just found this Whit, thank you for the article.

    The irony is when Pinellas County built out West Bay Dr. in its current configuration, it received state and federal dollars for bike lanes. After the construction was complete, the bike lanes were erased because…crickets…bad design. Same for County Road 1 in Dunedin and Tampa Rd in Palm Harbor. All 3 roads, built in the 1980s with local pre-Penny for Pinellas gas tax money, but not meeting the 1990 requirements for bike lanes, so they were removed. The same problem is there in parts of Gulf Blvd. I like the new soft bike lanes on Gulf Blvd, can we get bike lanes added back into these 3 roads? Make the traffic lanes narrower?

    Waiting for progress in Largo!

    Reply
    • Whit Blanton, FAICP

      Kevin – Thanks for the history. Yes, retrofitting county roads is a huge need. We are going to try to build consensus for an innovative re-design of West Bay between the Pinellas Trail and the bridge. This is a critical gap in the network, and there appears to be an opportunity for a buffered/protected bike lane. Stay tuned.

      Reply

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