US-19 Pedestrian Safety – Now?

Today I attended a FDOT sponsored focus group for a new US-19 “frontage road safety plan”. *sigh* FDOT is now addressing our shoehorned freeway from its south at the Ulmerton/Roosevelt fork up to Countryside mall on the north; where it returns to a 9-lane arterial, the next FDOT mega-project.

US-19 Safety Session / PSTAYes, absolutely, I was honored to be invited as a transit rider advocate. But I was sad to watch the spectacle, the very premise. Ten, twenty years ago the entire universe of our state, regional, local, FDOT … planners, funders, reviewers, approvers all conspired to create this local car sewer; that economic torpedo, the concrete dagger that today slices the very heart of Pinellas in two creating a death ridden chasm that only a hero (or fool) would ever hope to cross without a car.

Now! Now? Now … we suspect this monstrosity creates dangers for pedestrians & cyclists, and regular insurmountable inconveniences for transit riders. True, “better late than never”, but so too “an ounce of prevention”.

Two years ago PSTA created an entire program (a partnership with UBER/LYFT) in part to address riders that traveled US-19.  These days you board a bus but return on “the other side” of our Hadrian’s Wall. In simpler times you’d leave the bus and cross the street at a stop light crosswalk, then hoof it home. In other towns around the world, you are provided protected surface level pedestrian access, designed for safe passage free from speeding cars. But with years of design review and billions spent, riders can now get a couple buck subsidy to absurdly exit their bus and catch a taxi home. Of course, this is better than to walk a half-mile down and half-mile back with a white knuckle run through a blind U-turn of racing cars (rush hour, after dark), or crawl up then down a two story pedestrian overpass lugging a bike, groceries or a baby stroller. Please, pick your favorite.

All of this because absolutely nobody cared, nobody even asked about “people” (you know, people without cars) during the decade or more that those miles of US-19 flyovers moved back and forth on the drawing board. Now! Now we are having user meetings to figure out how many sutures it will take to stitch together this billion dollar incision to mid-county. Now we try to fix the economic bleeding and the crazed living conditions of anyone not behind a steering wheel. All because of decisions to slice our county in half, made long ago, with the care and empathy of a guillotine.

Yes, I’m glad I was invited. Glad somebody is finally asking the questions.

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