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Bike trails to connect key points in Pinellas

Pinellas County plans to add about 125 miles of bike paths to make the county safer and more economical for cyclists.

Two segments of a bike trail that will run around the county recently have been finished, and in the next 10 years the entire loop will be done. Eventually the county intends to have a 200-mile network of trails that will connect key points in the county.

"This trail project is really maturing at a time when people are looking for other alternatives to travel," county planning director Brian Smith said.

"People have become more health-conscious and now want to save gas."

Here's a look at the recent work and some of what is planned.

Downtown extension

One of the most recent additions to the loop is the downtown extension from 34th Street S to the St. Petersburg waterfront.

It is already in use, but the official opening will be next month.

Progress Energy Trail

Construction on one portion of the Progress Energy Trail, which is the eastern side of the loop, was finished last month.

That section begins on Belleair Road in mid county and runs north to Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater.

The entire 20-mile length of the Progress Energy Trail will start at Weedon Island in St. Petersburg, run north diagonally across the county and end at Tampa Road, north of Dunedin. Plans call for it to be finished in 10 years.

Riders appear to be responding well to both these new trails.

"It's opening a new world for those people," Smith said.

North, South Bay Trails

In the next 90 days, construction will begin on a section of the South Bay Trail called Clam Bayou Trail.

It will intersect with the Pinellas Trail at about 40th Street S in St. Petersburg and head south to the Sunshine Skyway.

It will take five years to complete and cost 4.5-million in federal, state and city funds.

The North Bay Trail is in the design stage. Construction is to begin within the year. It will run from Demens Landing, where the downtown extension ends, north to the Gandy Bridge. It is to be completed in five years and will cost about $6.5-million in federal, state, county and city funds.

"The goal is to provide a safe biking environment for those who use it as a form of transportation," said Joe Kubicki, director of St. Petersburg's Department of Transportation and Parking.

In 2003, the city set out to be more bicycle friendly.

The Federal Highway Administration had labeled it a "mean-streets" community the year prior.

Officials have spent $14.1-million in federal and state grants to add trails, expand sidewalks, and improve crosswalks and safety education efforts.

The progress is in plain view. Since 2003, the city has built more than 70 miles in new bike lanes and 4.5 miles of bike paths separated from the road.

Workers have improved more than 100 crosswalks by installing handicapped ramps, pavement markings or strobe lights warning motorists of crossing pedestrians.

Earlier this year the FHA called St. Petersburg the greatest turnaround story in the nation.

People have been taking advantage of the opportunities.

About 90,000 riders use the county's bike trails, and the new and upcoming additions will only swell the ranks.

Kubicki said he has noticed a changing attitude toward biking in the city.

On July 4, so many riders came downtown that the city installed bike racks to accommodate the hundreds more riders.

The trails are not just recreational.

Two-thirds of riders use them for purposes like going to work or school, according to rider surveys, and officials hope they will eventually transform people's transportation habits.

"Every bike we have relieves some traffic on our roadways," Kubicki said.

Bike trails to connect key points in Pinellas 07/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 2:24pm]

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