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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020 2 months ago

DOT proposes $3.3 million A1A pedestrian safety project, but raised medians a concern

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If built, the new raised medians would limit left-hand turns in the A1A corridor from Milsap Avenue to Granada Boulevard.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

A $3.3 million pedestrian safety project by the Florida Department of Transportation is in the works for a section of A1A in Ormond Beach, and while officials are in favor of adding more crosswalks to the busy road, there is concern regarding proposed concrete medians that would prevent left-hand turns.

A public hearing by DOT was held earlier this month on Dec. 3 at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center, where the public was walked through an overview of the 1.6-mile project beginning at Milsap Road and ending at Granada Boulevard. The project includes roadway resurfacing, a curb ramp reconstruction, six rectangular rapid flashing beacon crosswalks and raised medians, the latter of which are proposed to have directional openings to allow for U-turns.

According to the project presentation, these directional openings in the medians are supposed to reduce the chances for severe crashes by reducing  the number of conflict points. A full median opening— what is in place now for most of the project area — has 18 conflict points; two-way directional median openings have four, DOT illustrated.

However, these proposed medians came as a surprise to the city.

City Commissioner Dwight Selby, who serves on the River to Sea Transportation Planning Organization, said at the commission's Dec. 15 meeting that, while the board had discussed pedestrian safety at length and crosswalks were something he'd been pushing for over the last couple of years, he never recalled the medians being brought up. 

Consequently, the impacted business owners and residents weren't well-informed when the hearing came around.

“The DOT did not do a good job in letting people know that these proposed changes are in the works," he said.

The business standpoint

Several business owners spoke at the  DOT hearing, many of whom identified themselves as belonging to Restaurant Row, a local nonprofit organization that aims to band beachside businesses together. A concern many shared was that the restriction of left-hand turns would impact the patronage to their businesses, as less people will be willing to do a U-turn in order to eat or shop at one of their establishments.

Lena Lux, owner of Tipsy Taco cantina and founder of Restaurant Row, said at the hearing that the lack of a directional opening at Ponce De Leon Drive in particular would restrict access to, not only her restaurant, but the Beach Village gift shop and the Go Juice smoothie bar.

“To have to make a U-turn and go all the way around, that’s going to hinder all of our businesses," Lux said. "Plus we have a very busy intersection there with all of the residents coming in and out all day.”

This slide from DOT's public hearing shows the proposed directional openings in the raised medians. Courtesy of DOT

Lux added that DOT should consider adding lighting to the area, preferably ones red in color to avoid negative impacts to the sea turtle population. 

Ormond Beach resident Mark Dowst, who identified himself as a professional engineer, said another issue with the medians was that A1A doesn't have the necessary space to conduct a safe U-turn. What occurs is cars are then forced to do a three-point turn at these directional openings, adding to the road hazards on an already dangerous street. Then, large vehicles who aren't able to do this will utilize neighborhood streets to reach an area where they can make a left-hand turn at a traffic light.

“I think what’s going to happen here is that you’re not going to get the safety benefits you’re after because it’s really not set up for the vehicular traffic we have to make the U-turns," Dowst said. "I think it’s going to cause a lot of problems.”

City Commissioner Troy Kent and City Engineer Shawn Finley tested out Dowst's theory. Kent drives a truck, and discovered that Dowst was right. He ended up having to do a three-point turn. 

No left turn at fire station?

Selby highlighted one final flaw with the medians: DOT didn't account for Fire Station 91. 

In the current design, firefighters responding to emergency calls would also not be able to turn left on A1A. The city is going to make sure this is fixed, Selby said. Mayor Bill Partington agreed.

“Certainly a fire truck can’t do a U-turn through a cut in the median," Partington said.

Kent said the mistake leaves room for the city to negotiate with DOT with all of the medians. 

When it came to the proposed crosswalks, the commission was unanimous in its support. Selby said overall, the fact DOT is beginning this project is a positive thing for the community. The six mid-block crossing locations are proposed to be located at River Beach Drive, Rockefeller Drive, Arlington Way, Seminole Avenue, Osceola Avenue and Bosarvey Avenue.

Kent said he's been advocating for crosswalks on A1A for over a decade.

“Every single one of those rapid rectangular flashing mechanisms is extremely needed and warranted in Ormond Beach," Kent said.

DOT aims to finalize the project's design phase by Spring 2021 with construction slated to begin in the fall. 

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