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Streets trade traffic woes, thanks to roadwork detours
By LAURA HEINAUER
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- For the past few months, Lisa Flanagan has breathed easier.
She has not had to worry about her 5- and 7-year-old children playing in the front yard. Her son was able to chase his basketball if it rolled into the street. She had even stopped wincing when backing out of her driveway.
But as of Wednesday, things started to return to normal, which is to say, busy. With construction on Bayou Grande south of 62nd Avenue N nearing completion, traffic raced past her ranch house at 6010 Denver St. again. And residents on Denver Street north of Pennsylvania Avenue were reminded -- after two months of traffic-free bliss -- what it's like to live on a notoriously speedy street.
"We're right where everybody does 50 right before they stop," Flanagan said. "The break was quite nice while it lasted." Since April, Flanagan and her neighbors have benefited from the $840,000 street renovation and stormwater drainage project. The project, which has closed sections of Bayou Grande since November, turned Denver from an easy route to 62nd Avenue into a dead end.
In the meantime, a detour to Tanglewood Drive gave residents there a taste of what life on Denver Street is like.
The detour reportedly had Tanglewood Drive residents resorting to the same guerrilla tactics that neighboring streets have used for years. At different times in the past two months, cars could be found parked on either side of the street to squeeze traffic and slow it down.
"My cat is a nervous wreck," said Jeanne Traugott of 6101 Tanglewood Drive NE. "She's an outdoor cat, but she's gotten so skinny since this started. Now she is always coming in and hiding in the garage. She's a mess."
Now that Bayou Grande, between Denver Street and 62nd Avenue, is open to traffic, drivers will have a choice of using Denver Street, Venetian Boulevard or Tanglewood Drive. The speed limit on Tanglewood will continue to be 10 mph, and 30 mph on Denver and Venetian unless studies show that the speed limits need to be adjusted, said city transportation director Angelo Rao.
"I'm told that some residents from Tanglewood called and now it's going to be changed," he said. "Generally, the worst is over for everybody in my opinion."
The worst will never be over until permanent changes are made, said Theresa Rae Gay, who has lived at 5719 Venetian Blvd. for five years.
As chairwoman of the Shore Acres Civic Association traffic committee, Gay is leading a fight to make changes to streets in her neighborhood. She is working with 18 sections in Shore Acres whose members have signed petitions to seek speed-curbing changes such as speed bumps and road islands.
"They just had a sample of what I've been living with for four years," Gay said. "People out here want change. Snipers are a common request," she joked. Studies done by the city's traffic department show that speeding is common in the Denver Street area. On May 9, the study showed, 16 people were going more than 71 mph and 41 people were going more than 50 mph on Denver Street between Bayou Grande and Dover Street in a 24-hour period.
"The traffic is horrendous," Traugott said. "But I don't want bumps or anything."
Traugott's feelings mirror those of many in Shore Acres, Gay said. Two years ago, Gay lost a battle to make permanent changes to streets in the area. At that time, two-thirds of the residents in each section had to fill out a petition in favor of changes and then the entire neighborhood would need to show up at a committee meeting in person to vote on the changes.
This time around, residents will be able to vote for change by mail ballots or at one of several ballot drop-offs in the neighborhood. Gay said she hopes to have the petitions signed, approved and ready for a vote by September.
"People think I'm crazy for doing this again," she said. "The first time I had people calling me and leaving hate messages. They would follow me and say, "I saw you going 32 mph on Bayou Grande Drive.' But this year people have been much more supportive."
If the changes are approved, construction would not begin for another year, long after the construction on Bayou Grande Drive is scheduled to be completed this November. The Bayou Grande project is being completed in three phases: Phase 1 from Venetian Boulevard to Pennsylvania Avenue, which is now 90 percent complete; Phase 2 from Pennsylvania Avenue to Denver street, which is just getting under way; and Phase 3 from Denver to 62nd Avenue, which is about 70 percent complete, according to city engineer and stormwater director Mike Connors.
"By allowing for detours, we were promoting faster completion. If the detour did not exist, we expect it could take four more months to complete," Connors said.
As for any further changes, residents still disagree on what options would work best to prevent speeding, Gay said. The vote in November is still up in the air, she said. "People don't want you to change things," she said. "But I'm always up for a challenge."
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