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City braces for Blind Pass Road disruption

A design team suggests neighborhood traffic-calming devices and ways to "psychologically narrow'' the road after it turns to five lanes.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


ST. PETE BEACH -- The state Department of Transportation will begin work on Blind Pass Road in August, disrupting the neighborhood's way of life for the next two years.

On Tuesday,the city's design team unveiled plans for dealing with the project during construction and afterward, when the five-lane highway forces a new look for the north end of St. Pete Beach.

The team's conclusions? The city must prepare for cut-through traffic that turns residential areas into major detour routes during construction.

Once construction is finished, property owners along Blind Pass Road could make the most of a difficult situation, turning a commercial highway into a welcoming, pedestrian-friendly business strip.

"I think you did a thorough job, and I think you've got some great recommendations, both for the short term and the long term," Mayor Ward Friszolowski told the design team at a workshop meeting Tuesday, where the City Commission got its first look at the Blind Pass Road plan.

The team, established about a year ago, is made up of three staffers who work on planning issues. First, the ideas for carrying the Blind Pass area through construction.

The design team predicts that although some motorists will avoid the Blind Pass Road corridor altogether by entering the city on the Corey Causeway, most commuters will cut through the Blind Pass neighborhoods and take Gulf Boulevard or Boca Ciega Drive.

The team presented several ideas for dealing with the extra traffic on neighborhood streets: speed humps, raised intersections, street closures or traffic circles.

Last year, the neighborhood decided against closing several of its streets, but the idea could resurface after the road is widened.

The city is working with a traffic consultant to determine which of the traffic-calming options would work best in the Blind Pass area. These would not be installed until after construction begins, according to the staff report, but they would remain after the road is widened.

Parking space for businesses along the road also is a concern.

Some business owners were reimbursed for the parking area and other land the DOT had to purchase for the widening, but other businesses have simply been using the DOT right of way for parking, and now the state will reclaim the land.

The road closure plan that the City Commission rejected would have helped some businesses create new parking, but now the city might allow parking in the rights of way of nearby avenues.

The DOT assumes that traffic along Blind Pass will dramatically increase, but the team disagreed. Staffers do think, though, that the widening will generate interest in redevelopment along the thoroughfare, and that will open the door to a new look for Blind Pass.

The City Commission will consider a zoning overlay for the Blind Pass area similar to Pass-a-Grille's, which is designed to help protect the neighborhood's character. "We can go with a traditional commercial highway environment, or we can try to encourage a more pedestrian-friendly environment," city planner Jerry Speece said.

The team sought ways to "psychologically narrow" Blind Pass Road. In Redington Beach, where the highway is as wide as it is in Madeira Beach, heavy plantings in the median encourage drivers to slow down as much as 10 mph, the staffers noted. Medians will not be allowed on the new Blind Pass Road, so the staff is suggesting storefronts along the sidewalk, creating more of a Main Street look.

This type of redevelopment would force parking and other functions behind the storefronts.

"We want to focus on getting people out of their cars and getting people to walk to places and make it pleasant to do so," Speece said.

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