An underlying theme in my first three “reimagining” articles has been the efforts being taken to take back our city from automobiles. It is implied in the first one and more explicit in the second and third article. Simply put, we lost something, beginning in the 1950’s, when we started designing our city for cars instead of people. From residential streets that are too wide, to a US highway that is now so wide that it is dangerous to cross without being encapsulated in tons of steel, we have sacrificed livability on the alter of the automobile.
It simply doesn’t have to be that way.
We have started the process by building multi-use paths in various parts of the city. As those pieces are tied together, you will be able to safely bicycle across town. Wider sidewalks will allow you to safely walk around without fear of being hit by a car.
Golf carts are an interesting variation on the theme. Unknown outside of golf courses in the 1950’s, golf carts have become a popular way to getting from one place to another in towns across America. I figured there would only be a few folks taking advantage of our golf cart ordinance when we first passed it. Much to my surprise, there are now hundreds of golf carts on our streets.
Sitting between golf carts and regular cars are so called “LSVs” or Low Speed Vehicles. They have license plates and the insurance requirements of a regular car, but they are slower and are not supposed to be on US 19.
There will still be a place for conventional automobiles or light duty trucks. Anything that involves jumping on US 19 or SR 54 is still going to require you to take a conventional motor vehicle. Let’s face it, you have to be suicidal to want to bicycle or pilot a golf cart or LSV on US 19. The highway has bike lanes in places, but there is no way I’d risk my life by trying to ride my bike on one.
For all your other trips around town, you’ve got options. That range of options should expand over time. Some streets are closed to golf carts, but not bicycles or LSVs. These include Marine Parkway, Congress, and Massachusetts Avenue. I disagree with this limitation, but I am in a minority and I recognize that there are serious traffic issues on these streets. Once we get speeding under control, these streets will become safer for everyone and we should be able to open them to golf carts.
Scooters are also a possible future option. I’m not sure whether or not scooters on our streets and sidewalks are a good thing or not. They seem to be mostly for fun, but there are more and more of them around town.
One interesting issue is a state Department of Transportation prohibition on golf carts crossing wide roads, such as US 19. Mind you, pedestrians and bicycles are allowed to cross the highway, just not golf carts. That makes no sense to me. It also apparently makes no sense to golf cart owners, since I regularly see golf carts crossing the highway, particularly at Main Street. I suspect the better part of valor is to recognize that golf carts need to get across the highway and make sure that at least some of our controlled intersections are configured to allow them to do so safely. Marine Parkway, Gulf Drive, Main Street, and Grand Blvd (in Port Richey) intersections on US 19 should be reconfigured to allow safe crossings.
Walking should also be an option for short trips. We have some sidewalks, but we need a lot more and the existing sidewalks need to be brought up to current standards for width and be kept well maintained. Some of our existing sidewalks are too narrow for two adults to walk side by side and they are right against the street. That is not safe. These sidewalks need to be widened and moved away from the traffic lanes, if at all possible. Tying our existing multi-use trails together is a step in the right direction. Adding additional sidewalks along residential streets will be another step in the right direction.
We also need to think about making sidewalks and pedestrian areas inviting. In the downtown, that means looking at providing shade. Railroad Square is a case in point. This area was designed to allow automobile traffic to be blocked off so that people can use the Square as a pedestrian mall. Unfortunately, there is precious little shade there and it is simply too hot to use during daylight hours for a good part of the year. There are some design plans in the works to offer suggestions on how to solve this issue. Sidewalks in front of businesses need shade too. Canopies are one option. Trees are another option, although decent shade trees bring issues with them, primarily roots that tend to break up sidewalks and asphalt.
Finally, we need to make it possible for people who drive to the downtown to park their car once and then get around the downtown without having to get back into their car. We have an electric shuttle on order. It will offer people the opportunity to park in the new garage or one of the existing downtown parking lots and get to anywhere in the downtown they want to go. Operating hours and the exact route have not been set yet, but look for the shuttle to arrive in November.
The Chasco Fiesta and some other events have had shuttle service in the past and they have proven very popular ways of parking at remote lots and not having to walk all the way to the event.
Have you already started using something other than a car to get around town? Let me know in the comments.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor