Dunedin still big steps away from pedestrian paradise


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 1998

The city of Dunedin received quite an honor recently. Walking magazine included the city on its list of "America's Best Walking Towns" in its May/June issue.

Dunedin was one of six small communities honored with the magazine's First Annual Walkable Community Award. Here is what Walking magazine said: "Dunedin was, quite simply, resurrected by its rail trail. Small parks, colorful landscaping, and traditional streetlights add to the charm."

In other words, the Pinellas Trail and the quaint downtown were the reasons Dunedin made the list. It joined such small cities as Exeter, N.H., and Clayton, Calif., which have miles of trails, well-maintained sidewalks, paths along rivers and into parks, and pedestrian connections to all parts of the community, according to the magazine.

Does Dunedin belong in such elite company? Yes and no.

First, why Dunedin deserves the award.

Dunedin is the shining example of successful downtown redevelopment in North Pinellas County. Clearwater wants its downtown to be more like Dunedin's, and so do Largo, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar. A pedestrian can stroll Dunedin's downtown and marina area on landscaped sidewalks lined with restaurants, shops and businesses.

Give Dunedin officials credit for recognizing the potential value of the Pinellas Trail. It passes through the middle of downtown and was incorporated into Dunedin's redevelopment plans. The city built parking and other amenities along the trail and helped build a historical museum in the old train station.

But Dunedin is lucky, too. It was the Pinellas County Commission that took the politically risky chance of spending millions of dollars to develop the trail. It was the county that spent more money adding a spur to the trail along the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island State Park. Dunedin officials only reluctantly agreed to build restroom services on the causeway.

One has to wonder: Would Dunedin officials have had the political courage to build a trail in their city if the county hadn't done so?

Now, why Dunedin may not deserve the award.

An out-of-town couple who read the Walking article and took a trip to Dunedin would likely have this reaction: They would be thrilled by the trail, dazzled by the downtown. Then they would wander beyond that limited area and discover the truth about Dunedin (and the rest of Pinellas County, for that matter). It is not very friendly to pedestrians, and downright hostile at times.

While the city has accomplished a lot with its downtown, the success does not extend much beyond that. For example, if our visiting couple wanted to walk or bike to Highlander Park, where the city holds many of its events, the way is not clearly marked, attractive or safe. The south side of Michigan Avenue, where the park is, doesn't even have a sidewalk connection to the trail.

Or let's say the visitors walked to the city marina at sunset and noticed the long waterfront park along Edgewater Drive. There is no safe way to reach the park along the west side of Edgewater, and the strip of land on beautiful St. Joseph Sound has no path or sidewalk and few amenities.

The truth is, some parts of Dunedin are a threat to pedestrians. In the past 18 months, a woman was killed crossing State Road 580, a man died walking his dog across County Road 1, and two more people were seriously injured as they walked along CR 1. Not all of that is the city's fault, of course. But residents should ask: What has the city done to make those places more safe?

There are streets where children walk to school in Dunedin that don't have sidewalks. Retirees fear for their lives crossing some city roads.

I don't mean to pick on Dunedin. I often walk or bike in the city and appreciate the improvements there. And sometimes, city officials show signs of understanding that they cannot leave the job partially done.

For example, the city will address the problem of traffic on New York Avenue, a residential street that has become a high-speed shortcut, by narrowing and landscaping the road. The improvements should reduce speeds closer to the 25 mph limit and improve appearances. Why stop at one street?

The Dunedin City Commission has taken other preliminary steps. It will, for example, approach the county transportation organization about moving more through-traffic out of downtown and neighborhoods and onto arterial roads.

But the commission is oddly divided on how to respond to a state Department of Transportation plan that would add more lanes and more traffic downtown. DOT would build a second northbound lane (where a park exists) and widen the lanes at Main Street and U.S. Alt. 19. That would further divide downtown from the waterfront and discourage pedestrians from crossing Alt. 19. What value can commissioners see in such "progress"?

Protecting and expanding the quality of life in Dunedin will take the political will to spend money and stand up to criticism. Does the commission have that will? We'll see.

In the meantime, if Dunedin is going to talk the talk about being one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the country, it's going to have to walk the walk. No pun intended.


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