One of the reasons residents don’t walk more is the design of our sidewalks. They are either narrow or non-existent. One project to try to change that is underway on River Road between Bridge Street and Veterans Drive. The plan is to narrow the 24’+ wide street to 20′ and use the extra four feet of space to widen the current sidewalk, which is too narrow for two people to walk side by side and add some landscaping. The wider sidewalk will also accommodate people using wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.
River Road and the dangerously narrow sidewalks have been a feature of the neighborhood since I first moved to New Port Richey in 1963. Since it has been this way for at least sixty years, it would seem safe to assume that the street and sidewalk have always been this way. That assumption would be wrong.
As the road crew has removed the old asphalt, an interesting artifact has emerged. In the picture on the right, you can clearly see an older concrete curb sitting well inside the current roadway. I measured it out. While the original edge of the road on the other side is hard to determine exactly, it appears that the previous roadway was approximately 16′-17′. Put another way, for decades before the current road alignment, River Road got along just fine with 8′ residential travel lanes. Admittedly, cars, like most of us, have gotten much wider in the intervening decades. Still, the current plan to build out 10′ lanes will be more than adequate and will allow for pedestrians to safely walk along this stretch of River Road while allowing vehicles that are the maximum width allowed on the roads without special permits (8 feet wide) to pass each other with four feet to spare.
This discovery makes me wonder. How many other residential streets in New Port Richey have also been widened over the decades as the post war car culture took over?
Perhaps, conversations about speeding in our neighborhoods and the oversized roads that encourage speeding should shift from “it doesn’t have to be this way” to “it wasn’t always this way and maybe it is time for us to correct this decades old mistake.”
One other street in New Port Richey has been put on a “paint diet”. Grand Boulevard south of the downtown and north of the Cotee River bridge has been re-striped from four lanes to two travel lanes, plus a center turn lane and bike lanes. For the cost of a little bit of paint, the city has successfully slowed traffic down on this stretch of roadway. The center turn lane seems to be a bit of overkill, but a final reconfiguration of Grand Boulevard will wait until the bridge is replaced in a few years. I can imagine Grand getting a planted median where the center turn lane is now, or better yet, the street could be narrowed to allow bike lanes and much wider shade tree lined sidewalks with landscaping along each side of what should be one of the most beautiful streets in our city. Grand could become a truly grand boulevard that attracts people to walk, bike and enjoy the area.
Perhaps the best news is that the city council adopted a pavement management system a few years back and so there is money available to re-imagine our city’s streets in ways that make them safe and enjoyable for everyone. Things won’t change overnight, but River Road is proving that we can turn back the calendar in our neighborhoods to a time when it was safer to stroll or bicycle along our city streets. All we need to do is let our city council know that we value the changes they are currently making to make our city more walkable and safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and golf carts.
‘Til next time,