By JACK REED
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 1998
he 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
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
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.