As an old editorial writer, I’m accustomed to offering criticism. But the necessary flip side of criticism is to offer praise when you think something is done properly. Anyway, some time ago I offered the opinion that planners working on fixing decades-old traffic problems on Pensacola Beach were stuck in the mud. They avoided addressing the fundamental problems by tinkering ineffectively around the edges. The result of this lack of imagination, I warned, would be a continuation of ongoing congestion, leavened with the increased risk inherent in mixing a growing volume of vehicular traffic with a growing volume of pedestrian traffic.
Putting people and speeding cars together on crowded streets is begging for disaster. One solution is to greatly slow the speed of the cars, as is done in downtown Pensacola with a healthy mix of four-way-stop intersections and narrow, two-lane streets. But on Pensacola Beach, the main drag is four lanes, and you need to move vehicles through the beach core.
Without a paradigm change, I feared, nothing would be done until a tragedy occurred, most likely the death of someone crossing the street.
In particular, I argued for removing people from the roadway by using elevated crosswalks.
Now I’m happy to say that traffic planners have recently shown an explosion of creativity. Plans presented in late October use a variety of innovative solutions to address the most serious problems. And one of the proposals caught me by surprise, albeit a pleasant surprise. And that is roundabouts.
Now, let me add a note of caution by saying there are no perfect solutions. The beach is limited geographically, and growing in popularity. There’s only so much you can do to manage it. And of course there’s always someone who will complain.
And no doubt the proposal for not one, but two roundabouts, to keep high-load summer traffic flowing is drawing the ire of some people. But despite the panic and despair with which many Pensacolians greeted previous suggestions to install roundabouts downtown, they are used around the world, including in Florida. Having experienced them in Europe, I admit they can be confusing until you understand them. But the confusion is multiplied by the number of lanes within them, and the number of entries and exits they serve. The beach roundabouts appear to be pretty simple.
Just as importantly, planners propose getting pedestrians off the streets by funneling them either under or over the roadways; either seems fine to me.
Another component involves automating the toll booths so that drivers no longer stop to deposit cash, in an effort to eliminate the long lines that back up into Gulf Breeze, a method used successfully elsewhere. The question here is whether it just moves the stoppage forward to the light at Via De Luna and Fort Pickens Road. It might, unless the roundabouts also come to reality and eliminate the light.
The plan also addresses parking, which is a whole other controversy, as well as enhanced use of trolleys to move people without cars.
As I said, there are no perfect solutions. But I salute beach traffic planners for going beyond what I imagined with a bold plan that addresses problems that have plagued the beach since at least the 1980s.