“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (NIV, Revelations 3:17).
In our city, we have streets and roads. We also have hybrids that are best defined as “stroads”. Streets are the fabric of our city that encourage commerce and enjoyable living. Roads are designed to get you from one place to another as quickly as possible. Stroads try to do both and wind up doing neither very well.¹ (See footnote for a definition and links.)
The worst local example is US 19, which is a road that development has forced into becoming more street like. Hundreds of businesses have curb cuts along US 19. There is a sidewalk that few people use and bike lanes that only those with a death wish would consider using. Pedestrians sometimes have to go miles out of their way to use one of the few crosswalks and even those can be challenging because of vehicles that never completely stop moving for more than a second or two. It is not safe for pedestrians or cyclists and it is only marginally better for people driving in their cars.
Streets should be places where the flow of cars is secondary to the flow of people. Main Street in the historic downtown is a good example. The streetscaping that was done in the 90’s has had the effect of slowing down traffic and making it more attractive for people to get out of their cars and walk around. Main Street in the historic downtown was originally laid out in the early part of the last century, before cars became ubiquitous.
Compare the historic area with the part of Main Street on the west side of the bridge. That section, known as the “Palm District” because of the Washingtonian Palms that line the street, was laid out in the 50’s with the idea that people would go to the store of their choice by car and not visit other stores nearby. Four lanes encouraged speeding once you crossed the bridge. There is no need for four lanes, as we proved by marking off the outside lanes as parking spaces. The Palm District section of Main Street was designed to move vehicles quickly and not to promote commerce in that area. The street had become a stroad.
Central Avenue, envisioned by the city fathers as being where the downtown commercial district would be, also has become a stroad. It is an obscenely wide street without adequate sidewalks, or in some spots, any sidewalks at all. It was designed with speed in mind and we should not be surprised that folks speed on it. Central Avenue between Adams and Madison is a stroad.
The same could be said for Grand Blvd south of the downtown and north of the bridge. It was designed to four lane highway standards and there is no traffic to even remotely justify how it was constructed. Grand Blvd from Main Street to the Gulf Drive is a stroad.
Look a little closer at our city and you will discover that most of the “state” and “president” streets are, in fact, also stroads. North River Road is a stroad. Main Street east of Madison is a stroad.
Why do we have four lane roads running through residential areas? The picture of Grand was taken one morning at “rush hour”. Enough said.
We have a choice: We can accept the fact that these stroads are encouraging excessive speed in our neighborhoods or we can do something about it.
Given the magnitude of the problem, traffic enforcement is impossible. We simply can’t hire enough police to slow the traffic citywide.
Speed humps help, but only if you install so many along a given stretch that they become annoying. They are a band-aid at best.
Let’s look at redesigning the stroads so that they can function as community streets? Given that the maximum width of a vehicle on the road without a special permit is 8 feet, why do we need streets that have 12 foot, 14 foot, 20 foot or even wider lanes? We’ve compounded the problem by painting “racing stripes” down the middle of many of these streets. Maybe if we started narrowing the lanes down to 10 feet and used the extra space for things like trees, sidewalks, and multi-use paths, we’d see traffic slow down and more people being willing to walk to bicycle to where they want to go. Let’s also look at Central Avenue between Adams and Circle to see what can be done.
Conceptual plans for fixing River Road between Main Street and Veterans Way are already well along. Duke Energy has been moving power poles back as they have been replacing the old ones. We could have a sidewalk there wide enough for a couple to walk together hand in hand.
The latest conceptual ideas for fixing Grand Blvd. will be presented Monday night, July 25th at 5pm in city hall. Part of this is intended to add a missing bike route between New Port Richey and the multi-use trail on Marine Parkway.
I don’t know that we can do anything to fix US 19. It may well be beyond hope. So long as the state and federal authorities continue to look at it as a highway for moving traffic from one place to another rather than as a business district catering to local traffic going to local businesses, nothing is going to change.
There IS hope for fixing the other stroads in New Port Richey and turning them back into streets that are designed for the people that live here. Grand Blvd south of town is ripe for being fixed. Imagine Main Street in the Palm District narrowed down to allow large shaded sidewalks. Imagine couples and children being able to safely walk on a wide sidewalk along River Road. Imagine how much nicer Main Street east of Madison and Central Avenue between Adams and Madison would be without all the excess asphalt encouraging people to speed. Imaging reclaiming room for people along all those bloated State and President stroads around town. We simply don’t need to accept the status quo. We can insist on making New Port Richey a safer place to get around without having to wrap ourselves in two tons of steel.
We can start that process by eliminating the stroads in our city.
For more information about the issue and US 19 in particular, please check out this article that showed up on Vox.com this morning: https://www.vox.com/23178764/florida-us19-deadliest-pedestrian-fatality-crisis
Rob Marlowe, Mayor
¹ “A stroad is a type of thoroughfare that is a mix between a street and a road. The word stroad is a pejorative portmanteau of street and road, coined by American civil engineer and urban planner Charles Marohn in 2011, as a commentary about paved traffic structures in the United States.” Wikipedia
For further reading, I’d recommend “Strong Towns” and “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town” both by Charles Marohn and “Walkable City” and “Walkable City Rules” by Jeff Speck.
Lou Parrillo says
The downtown streetscape project and the transformation of Sims Park both dramatically impacted the livability of our city, to put it mildly. The potential positive impact on downtown of turning these “stroads” into places that people can enjoy is huge! I would love to see more and faster progress!
Tom McKenna says
Well said, Mr Mayor. I found this a very, interesting and thought-provoking piece.
Living on Grand Blvd south of downtown can be harrowing due to high speed traffic. Noisy, too; motorcyclists seem to love noise – vrooom!! I would welcome the reduction in lanes, and the addition of bike paths (I take the side streets now due to my lack of said deathwish). I’d also welcome a more consistent presence of the police radar signs. I find them to be helpful reminders to watch my speed. Thanks!
Frank Starkey says
Good post, Mr Mayor! An inspiring number of people already use Grand Blvd on bike, foot, wheelchair, scooter, and golf cart – nearly as many as in cars. They do this in spite of the narrow and deteriorating sidewalks and fast – though infrequent – cars and pickup trucks.
As a resident on this stretch I think the road noise seems louder because of the excess hard pavement reflecting the vehicle noise, and lack of vegetation that would absorb it. (This is my supposition – I haven’t studied it.)
Narrowing the car lanes and expanding the space for walkers, rollers, and other living things will be a dramatic improvement to the street, the neighborhood, and the town.
Jon Tietz says
If the City can do nothing to impact what US19 is then perhaps it’s time to face our fears of being bypassed economically and start segregating car traffic from US19. This will divert the through drivers away and allow for the business district you have in mind.
Start limiting drivers’ ability to access downtown from 19 and “add a few steps” so it’s a bit more like St. Pete with a clear delineation of “you are leaving the highway”.
Close other streets/stroads to vehicular traffic and limit. To. Golf carts, bikes, ebikes, pedestrians.
Rob Marlowe says
Jon, You picked an interesting comparison, which I have also thought about. US 19 in St. Pete has a speed limit of 35 mph. Perhaps that would be better in West Pasco than the current 45 mph limit.