The beach communities in Pinellas County are beautiful places to vacation, live, and work, but travel along Gulf Boulevard, the main road leading to the beaches, is notoriously congested and often considered dangerous, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians. Over recent years, targeted efforts in engineering, education and enforcement have contributed to a decline in pedestrian and cyclist crashes along the corridor. But, many opportunities still exist to improve safety conditions. To further address transportation concerns along Gulf Boulevard, Forward Pinellas, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for transportation in Pinellas County, held an “Enhancing Beach Access” Forum in May of 2016. Community members and local business owners were invited to participate and voice their concerns and share their ideas to create a better Boulevard.
“It is important that people have access to the beach by means of travel that are often faster, easier, and more enjoyable than driving a vehicle”, says Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy. Kennedy is a commissioner in Indian Rocks Beach and a member of the Forward Pinellas board where she represents ten beach communities along Gulf Boulevard. Forward Pinellas recently partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to develop a plan to enhance the bicycle facilities along Gulf Boulevard as part of the overall focus area initiative. The study revealed locations on the corridor that face the biggest safety challenges for cyclists.
The goal of the bike lane study was to close gaps in the existing bike lanes and also identify areas where the addition of green-colored markings will improve the safety conditions. “The green bike lanes stand out and gets the motorist’s attention. If a cyclist is present, the driver is more likely to notice them and proceed with caution.” she says. The green markings are reserved only for locations where conflicts are present, such as major intersections, locations where bike and car traffic must mix, or a location with a crash history. The FDOT’s engineering study determined where the markings should be placed and how they will be configured based on industry standards and national best practices for bicycle design. Work on the bike lanes is planned to begin at the end of 2016 and is expected to take a year to complete.
Installing green bike lanes is called “greening,” a transportation safety strategy developed in New Zealand. It has since spread to cities across the United States and has been linked to tremendous success in reducing bicyclist fatalities. “Safety affects everyone—citizens, tourists, shop and restaurant owners, workers—everyone,” says Kennedy. “Our mission is to keep every person who travels along Gulf Boulevard safe, regardless of what mode of transportation works best for them. This project is just one step forward for our initiative to Enhance Beach Access and make our community and even better place to live, work and play.”