Work on a 2.1-mile extension of the Pinellas Trail along the south side of First Avenue S into downtown St. Petersburg began last week.
The downtown spur, part of a countywide plan to grow the 34-mile recreational trail to 75 miles by 2020, will cost the city about $6-million, with a large part paid for through federal funding. It will connect the southern end of the trail at 34th Street to the downtown waterfront, creating an unobstructed route running from Tarpon Springs all the way through downtown St. Petersburg.
City workers began building the 4-foot-wide traffic medians, which will separate the recreational path from traffic lanes, near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Work will progress east to the waterfront near Demens Landing during the next couple of months. The trail will be 10 feet wide and narrow First Avenue S to three lanes along its route.
The trail should be ready for bikers and joggers in May, according to Joe Kubicki, director of St. Petersburg's transportation and parking department.
There were concerns that the extension would eliminate a significant amount of parking along the main thoroughfare, but the project will result in the loss of only about six spaces, according to city officials.
Evan Moray, St. Petersburg's parking manager, said some blocks will lose parking because of required sight lines or driveway accesses, but other blocks actually gained spaces.
"The idea was to maintain as many parking spaces as possible," he said. "We did lose a few, but the impact is small."
Despite the loss of some parking, John Long, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, called the trail's opening a long-awaited event that will ultimately benefit downtown.
"This is a real positive connection for people to exercise, whether it be walking or riding bikes," he said. "The opportunity for more folks to come into the business area and not have to drive, I think, will offset concerns of losing a few parking spaces."
Keith Lukat, the administrator of the Lutheran Apartments at 550 First Ave. S, said he didn't think local business owners were too worried about the impact of the bike path. He was the only person who attended a meeting between city officials and business people along the street held six months ago to discuss the trail. Lukat said the apartments will only lose one parking spot.
"I'm not that concerned about it," he said. "Some residents may have to walk a little further when they park, but the trail will benefit a lot of our residents who ride bikes."
The first 5-mile section of the Pinellas Trail between Taylor Park in Largo and Seminole Park opened in 1990. Primarily built along an abandoned CSX Railroad right of way, the trail stretches 34 miles from Tarpon Springs in northern Pinellas County to St. Petersburg in the south. About 90,000 people use the recreational path each month, according to county estimates.