Neighborhood thrilled by traffic light
By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
OLDSMAR -- The last time the Florida Department of Transportation told residents of Gull Aire Village they couldn't get a traffic light at the entrance to their neighborhood, the mostly elderly crowd booed and jeered.
That was more than three years ago. Tuesday night, Gull Aire residents packed council chambers to hear another presentation about the traffic signal.
This time, the DOT engineer said yes and got about 15 seconds of applause.
"I knew he would walk away a hero tonight," Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland said.
That's because David Buser, a DOT district traffic operations engineer, announced that the intersection of Curlew Road and Gull Aire Boulevard now meets the state's criteria for a traffic signal. Gull Aire Boulevard is the main entrance to the subdivision of more than 500 homes, most of them occupied by elderly residents.
"We've been doing a lot of studies at that intersection over the years," Buser said. "A couple of times we have reviewed it and determined that a traffic signal was not warranted. But I'm pleased to say . . . this time around when we studied it, we have determined that we ought to signalize the intersection."
The state still needs to present the plan to the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization to get the agency's approval, but the state did not expect that to be a problem, Buser said. Barring any complications, the light could be up in about a year.
"Oh my," said Rosalind Ryon, who has lived in Gull Aire for 22 years. "That's wonderful. I think that's just great."
Ryon, several of her neighbors and city officials have lobbied the state for years for a traffic signal. They say the conditions on the road are dangerous, especially for elderly Gull Aire residents who can no longer drive. Several walk across busy Curlew Road to get to the Woodlands Square plaza on the other side of the street.
According to county traffic counts, an average of more than 18,000 cars and trucks a day use Curlew Road, which has a 45 mph speed limit.
The intersection of Curlew Road and Gull Aire Boulevard also is one of the main entrances for the plaza, which has a popular 20-screen movie theater.
"It can be quite an ordeal to get across the street with traffic going in and out of the mall," said John Woulfe, 77, a resident director at Gull Aire. "It's tight coming and going. I'm just surprised we haven't had more serious accidents out there. It's very hard to see."
After Curlew Road was widened to six lanes about two years ago, state officials and Gull Aire residents feared that it was only a matter of time before there was a serious accident involving a pedestrian.
In April, a 42-year-old mother of four who lived in a subdivision next to Gull Aire was killed while trying to cross Curlew Road on her electric scooter. The fatal accident brought more urgency to the pleas for a traffic light.
At the start of the year, Oldsmar City Council member Brian Michaels launched a campaign to lobby local, county and state officials for the traffic light. Last week, Michaels appeared before the St. Petersburg City Council to ask it to approve a resolution in favor of a traffic light on Curlew Road.
Michaels has succeeded in persuading St. Petersburg, Kenneth City and Redington Shores to approve resolutions in support of a signal light.
"Pretty much, everyone shrugged their shoulders and said 'We will never get a light,' " Michaels said. "But pretty much, I never give up. If you tell me no, that just makes me work harder, and sometimes you can achieve the impossible."
In this case, the impossible was achieved after the state did another study to determine whether a light was warranted at the intersection. The state looked at pedestrian counts and discovered that most of the walkers crossed Curlew at the intersection, disregarding a crosswalk the state built east of the intersection.
"The crosswalk is not being used as we had intended," said Marian Pscion, DOT spokeswoman.
The state also looked at accident statistics and determined that the number of accidents was increasing at the intersection. The state concluded that there were five accidents that could have been prevented by a traffic signal.
The study also determined that if the state installed a traffic signal at that intersection, it could be coordinated with the light on Tampa Road to minimize the effect on the flow of traffic, Pscion said.
"Based on all of that, we concluded that the signal warrants were met," Pscion said.
The state sent the city a letter late last week saying the latest study had determined that a signal was needed.
"I was shocked," Beverland said. "In fact, I didn't believe it. Somebody had to tell me, 'Yup, that's what the letter says.' "
-- Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or email@example.com.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks