By Whit Blanton, FAICP
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is preparing design plans for Drew Street between North Osceola Avenue and US 19, with about $8 million in place for in construction in fiscal year 2024. Much of the corridor, from Myrtle Avenue to NE Coachman Road, is State Road 590. With the design in an early phase, the matter is coming to the attention of the Clearwater City Council and Pinellas County Commission because the state has requested letters of support for repurposing the travel lanes for Drew Street between Myrtle Avenue and N. Saturn Avenue. This is part of FDOT’s process for modifying lanes on the state highway system. The Council and County Commission will consider sending letters of support at their upcoming April meetings.
What will change?
The two-mile mostly residential western portion of the roadway, from North Osceola Avenue to roughly Saturn Avenue, would change from the current four-lane undivided roadway into a mostly two-lane road with a center two-way left turn lane, a wide 5’ to 8’ sidewalk on the north side of the street, and a design speed of 35 mph. A two-way bike lane between Myrtle Avenue and Coachman Park will create safer access to and from the Pinellas Trail. Bikes will use the wide sidewalk between Myrtle and Saturn. East of Saturn Ave., Drew Street would remain a five-lane divided highway to US 19 and McMullen Booth Road, with wider sidewalks and a wider 5’ bike lane, center medians, and maintain the posted 40/45 mph speed limits.
The Drew Street/SR 590 “complete street” project has been in the works since 2016. That’s when the City of Clearwater submitted a grant application to Forward Pinellas in the first year of its Complete Streets Program, which offers grant funding for project planning and construction. The City’s request stemmed from neighborhood requests in the Skycrest area and other neighborhoods along Drew Street to address speeding, safety, narrow travel lanes, lack of sidewalks, bicycle facilities and safe crossings. There will be other minor safety and traffic access changes.
Changes to the transportation network can be difficult, especially in an area like Pinellas County with development and traffic pressures. Some leaders have expressed concerns about traffic capacity and congestion, their experience with changes made to Fort Harrison Avenue years earlier, and the lack of east-west alternatives for handle vehicle traffic to downtown, Coachman Park and the beach.
Three Lane vs. Four Lane Roads
First, it’s worth noting that just because a road is going from four lanes to two lanes with a center turn lane does not mean there is a loss of traffic efficiency. The Iowa Department of Transportation and other researchers have concluded after years of study that converting four-lane undivided roads to three-lane roads (two through lanes with a center turn lane) results in safer, more efficient traffic operations. Average travel speeds are somewhat lower, but traffic flows more consistently with fewer conflicts. This is because turning traffic can exit the traffic stream and wait for a gap to make a left turn, enabling through vehicles to continue unimpeded. The Iowa DOT produced a helpful video to illustrate the concept. Research in Iowa and by the Federal Highway Administration indicates these changes work best for roads of 20,000-23,000 daily volume or less. Drew Street carries 22,000 vehicles per day near Highland Avenue, but only 13,900 vehicles west of Missouri Avenue. FDOT’s projections of growth/redevelopment and traffic volumes to 2045 in their traffic analysis showed the lane repurposing is feasible with sufficient roadway capacity to manage future demand.
Comparing Fort Harrison Avenue and Drew Street
There are many case studies of successful lane repurposing, but local lived experience is worth considering. Fort Harrison Avenue and Drew Street have similarities. Both are classified as arterial roadways that connect into downtown Clearwater from suburban parts of the county, with a mix of adjacent residential and commercial land uses. Clearwater changed Fort Harrison Avenue south of downtown from a four lane to a two-lane road with a center turn lane and tried to shift through traffic to 4-lane Myrtle Avenue via Lakewood Street. The narrower roadway often experiences significant levels of traffic congestion, especially during peak traffic hours. Would modifying Drew Street create similar problems? Are there differences between Drew and Fort Harrison?
Traffic Signal Density
Traffic signals add delay for motorists. At a signalized intersection, cars must wait at red lights for turning and cross street traffic when those movements have the green light. The heavier the traffic volume on the intersecting street, the more delay is built into the signal timing plan.
The two-lane divided section of Fort Harrison Avenue from Bellview Road to Cleveland Street has 10 intersections with traffic signals, resulting in a signal density of nearly twice the level of Drew Street’s proposed two-lane section. Of those intersections, two include the one-way pairs of Court Street and Chestnut Street, a major state highway providing access to Clearwater Beach, which garner most of the “green time.” Other busy intersections include Druid Road and Lakeview Avenue (designed as the bypass of Fort Harrison).
Compare that with Drew Street, which has fewer traffic signals at less significant cross streets; Betty Lane and Missouri Avenue are low volume T-intersections. Because of traffic demand, the approach to Highland Street will have two lanes in each direction plus turn lanes.
While both Drew Street and Fort Harrison Avenue converge on downtown Clearwater, there are significant differences in the traffic generating characteristics of adjacent land development. Fort Harrison provides direct ingress/egress into Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater’s major health care facility, with parking garages, multiple parking lots and medical office buildings. It also has a Publix shopping center with several other tenants, office buildings, and more commercial space. While both streets serve the downtown employment district comprised of Pinellas County Government, the County Courthouse, and City of Clearwater, Fort Harrison provides the only direct north-south access into that activity center. In comparison, Drew Street is primarily residential, with few commercial or redevelopment opportunities.
Safety and Accessibility
The design of Drew Street with the modified lane configuration would create wider travel lanes, wide sidewalks, and add a center turning lane with medians and crosswalks for safe crossings. Bringing the lanes up to a consistent standard width will resolve several safety issues. These changes will help people on foot or bike access destinations along Drew Street, Crest Lake Park, downtown Clearwater, or neighborhoods on both sides of the roadway. Cars and trucks will continue to have mobility along Drew Street, but with a more balanced flow that fits the context of a residential neighborhood.
Drew Street experienced more than 500 crashes over a three year period from 2020 to 2022. There were about 170 crashes per year, with more than 60 involving injury, including several serious injuries and one fatality. Those crash statistics are consistent with data reaching back to 2013. A safety analysis revealed that average travel speeds are well above the posted 35 and 40 mph limits.
Transportation is multi-faceted, supporting mobility for all users, safety, access, and economic revitalization. The plans for Drew Street encompass those considerations in a balanced way. In support of its Safe Streets Pinellas initiative, Forward Pinellas has made Drew Street a priority project based on City’s prior approvals and policy direction. In our role setting countywide transportation priorities and lining up funding in the state’s five-year work program, it is extremely important to have a committed, consistent partner to deliver those funds as planned.
Transportation funding is built upon cooperation and consistent partnerships at the local, regional, and state levels because projects take time to plan, design and fund. Once we have policy direction, we work to advance projects as quickly as practical. The Drew Street project is a win-win transportation solution that benefits drivers, people on foot or bicycle, and neighborhoods alike. As is our process, Forward Pinellas will conduct a thorough before/after evaluation of the project, once constructed, to fully assess any impacts and benefits of the project and draw conclusions and recommendations to guide further planning and project implementation activities.