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Monday, Jan 21, 2019
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St. Pete's road vision: 60 miles of bike lanes and other upgrades in 5 years

ST. PETERSBURG - The newly converted bike lanes on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N are either fantastic or one of the worst decisions the city's made, depending on who you ask.

They're also a sign of what's to come.

St. Petersburg has committed to a 20-year initiative that over the next five years would add 60 miles of bike lanes, trails and markings and about 92 pedestrian crossings to city streets.

Officials presented the vision for this bike- and pedestrian-friendly network during a community workshop Wednesday night at the Empath Health Community Room on First Avenue S. About 50 people got a glimpse of those projects, which will be accomplished as part of the city's Complete Streets program. Complete streets also is the name of an urban design approach that promotes safety and convenience for all users and modes of transportation.

"The goal is to make these streets safer and more accessible for everyone," transportation manager Cheryl Stacks said. "We'll be designing our roads so people will want to drive slower."

Most of those projects do not involve converting existing roadway to make room for bike lanes or transit options, as happened with King Street. In that case, the city replaced one traffic lane between Fourth and 30th avenues N with extra-wide bike lanes that run on both sides of the road. The project has received mix reviews.

Bryan Shuler called the project "yet another City Hall debacle," saying it negatively affected one of the city's major arteries and has led to daily traffic jams between 22nd and 30th avenues N.

"There was absolutely no need for bike lanes," said Shuler, who lives on 24th Avenue N near King Street. "People have been using Woodlawn as a cut through, and we've noticed increased traffic."

But many at the meeting, like Kimberly Cooper, 62, praised the changes, saying they have made the street safer for both cyclists and drivers.

"The new lanes are fantastic," said Cooper, an avid cyclist who used to bike to work. "They're wide enough that I can safely pull over and feel comfortable stopping."

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Despite concerns from some business owners along King Street, the popular corridor has actually seen an increase in use since the lane change, according to the city's transportation director, Evan Mory. Average speeds during rush hour have decreased, dropping from 41 mph to 35 mph (the posted speed limit), according to speed counters placed on the road.

The city currently has about 130 miles in its bike network - including the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail - and hopes to add 100 miles more in the next 20 years.

Conversions like King Street account for about 30 percent of the bike and transit projects the city has mapped out over the next couple decades.

Apart from King Street, the biggest example of this in the near future is taking about 12 miles of road along 34th Street S and First avenues N and S to make room for bus rapid transit lanes. Cars that are turning will also be able to use these lanes, but otherwise they will be for buses only.

RELATED: State's $9.5 million grant will help rapid buses connect St. Pete, beaches

The majority of the projects showcased Wednesday are focused on making streets more accommodating for bicyclists and pedestrians by slowing speeds, adding shared lane markings (known as "sharrows") and creating neighborhood greenways.

These greenways are the biggest initiative in the plan the city mapped out Wednesday night, outlining nearly 40 miles in the next five years. They do not include separate, dedicated bike lanes but instead are aimed at streets that already have low speeds and low traffic counts, Stacks said.

"They're largely through the neighborhoods," she said. "Our goal is to connect these greenways and help people move between them safely."

Additional separated bike lanes - either with a physical buffer or painted stripes - are planned for 16th Street, 28th Street, Ninth Avenue N and 18th Avenue S.

Tampa has made similar efforts in recent years, adding bike lanes and markings to 98 miles of roads, with the help of the Florida Department of Transportation. The city plans to complete 20 more miles of bike projects in the next fiscal year, including projects along Himes Avenue, Ashley Drive and El Prado Boulevard.

Chiquita Clark, 33, attended Wednesday's workshop in St. Petersburg because of safety issues, citing recent fatalities in the city.

"The only concern is the amount of time it will take and the influence on local businesses," Clark said.

Both Clark and Janet Michelle said they wanted to make sure all parts of the city were represented.

"Overall, I think it's a good initiative, but I'd like to see more in the southern part of the city," Michelle said.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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