Safety Harbor bans rush-hour left turns
By AARON SHAROCKMAN
SAFETY HARBOR -- Safety is not its middle name. But close enough.
The quiet bayside community is taking steps to protect residents from a traffic mess that is growing by the day. As 1,500 cars crawl through the city's main intersection each morning and evening rush hour, residents are worried about those looking to save a couple of minutes by barreling through their back yards.
In an effort to combat impatient commuters, the city will ban left turns onto several residential streets during peak rush hours.
With the action, unanimously approved Monday, city commissioners hope people such as Helen Kurelik might be able to wake up peacefully.
Kurelik, who has lived on Tucker Street for 30 years, has seen an increasing number of motorists speed through her neighborhood during rush hour as commuters avoid the stop sign bottleneck in the center of town.
"Thirty years ago, there hardly was a town," Kurelik said. "There are cars every morning now, and they all come speeding through here."
Though there is no set date to start the changes, work already is under way, said City Manager Wayne Logan.
The city will post signs to let drivers know of the changes. Orders also have been placed for "no left turn" signs to place at the intersections.
The changes won't alleviate the long queues downtown, but it will keep the town's residential streets quiet and free from unwanted through traffic. That was exactly the hope, city architect Lennie Naeyaert said.
"The problem's not the intersection, it's the cut-through traffic," Naeyaert said. "The prohibition of left turns will fix that."
Adding a traffic light at the city's main intersection -- which connects Bayshore Boulevard, Bayshore Drive and Main Street -- was explored, said Bob Brown of Tampa Bay Engineering, which conducted the traffic study. But the light would draw more cars, not less traffic.
A light would increase the capacity of the throughway, which can handle 1,500 to 1,600 cars an hour. If more cars could be on the road, they would, Brown said. And the mess would just get bigger.
"People have three options coming off Route 60: Route 19, McMullen Booth or Bayshore," Brown said. "If they know that Bayshore's quicker, you can bet they're going to take it; and as more cars come, the road will slow down."
During a typical morning rush hour, peaking between 7:15 and 8:15 a.m., 1,045 cars entered Safety Harbor via Philippe Parkway S. More than 10 percent of the cars turned left between Grand Central Avenue and Church Street. Those turns would be prohibited in the new plan. Another 10 percent turned a street later, presumably to avoid the intersection, and would not be affected by Monday's decision.
The afternoon rush to avoid the stop signs, peaking between 5 and 6 p.m., is even worse. Of the 878 vehicles that entered Safety Harbor from Bayshore Boulevard, more than 25 percent -- 225 cars -- turned left onto Fifth or Sixth Streets. Both of those turns will be illegal soon.
Logan says the four-way stop works, as long as people are willing to wait. If they aren't, he suggests the other north-south routes.
"You can't place a cop at every corner to watch for speeders," Logan said. "It's not that cars are coming, we can't stop that. It's the manner that they're going through that worries us."
And people such as Helen Kurelik.
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