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Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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St. Petersburg business owners weigh impacts of city's Complete Streets plan

ST. PETERSBURG

For more than a year the city has been in the planning phases of an initiative to redesign its streets to be more pedestrian, bicycle and public transit friendly.

Complete Streets, a national initiative of Smart Growth America that has been in implemented in cities such as Seattle, Tucson, Arizona and Boulder, Colo., was adopted by St. Petersburg in 2015 as an initiative to redesign streets, and now city organizers are looking to business owners for feedback on how road improvements would affect them.

City transportation manager Cheryl Stacks said the city is simply hoping to get the conversation started. In late September, officials posted preliminary recommendations and priorities for where to add additional improvements and public forums have been held through the year.

Members of Florida Consumer Action Network, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and city officials recently took members of the business community on bus and bike tours to point out areas that could benefit, or already have benefited, from road improvements.

"Nothing's final right now," Stacks said. "Everything's heavy pencil."

Proposals include possibly converting Third and Fourth Streets to two-way traffic and adding more buffered, protected or shared bike lanes in several locations, including Third Street.

"One thing that leads us to believe Third Street might be a great corridor for bicycling is some of the feedback we've been getting from our bike share program, because it's GPS enabled," she said. "It tells us where specifically people are riding."

The project has already brought roadway improvements to the city, including bulbouts expanding sidewalks along Central Avenue that have shortened pedestrian crosswalks and allowed restaurants such as Nitally's to add more outdoor seating, installed more flashing lights at pedestrian crosswalks and creating bike lane enhancements along First Avenue S.

Brian West, media and communications manager for Publix, said the new Publix on First Avenue S was built with walkers and bikers in mind.

"It's more about location than anything else," he said. "It's a small footprint store, about half the size of a traditional store. … It was designed for walkers who make multiple trips for groceries and live and work here."

Keri Melshenker, executive director of Skyway Marina District, said she thought the plan could help businesses. The Skyway Marina district already has plans to add 150 pedestrian lights, road features that calm traffic and add a 10-foot sidewalk west of 34th Street, she said.

"Our goal is to create economic vitality down in that area," she said. "One of the things we keep hearing is that if you build the right road, people will come."

Similar strategies have been successful in other areas, such as Edgewater Drive in Orlando, Florida Consumer Action Network organizer Lisa Frank said, where four lanes were converted to three and sidewalks were added. The number of businesses in the area multiplied by four and the number of vehicle collisions decreased, she said.

Andy Salyards, owner of Urban Creamery, Urban Comfort and Urban Brew and BBQ, said one challenge he faces is getting people who live east of Fourth Street to eat west of Sixth Street. He said he believes taking small steps in transportation improvements can be helpful for businesses before large scale mass transit solutions comes into play.

"This still is very much a town where you drive everywhere and they're pushing the bikes, which is cool," he said. "(Mass transit), I don't know. I think the public has to really buy into the transit that's already there before doing anything more. It's like if we really wanted to do pastrami tacos, and no one buys it, and then we say, well maybe it's because of whatever reason and we say let's make pastrami burritos and make it bigger. If they're not buying it at a low level, why are they willing to buy it at a bigger level?"

     
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