LARGO — It's time to shake the cobwebs off your bike and pump up the tires. Just in time for the crisper, cooler days of October, the city will unveil its newest urban trail.
The new 8-foot-wide sidewalk and bike trail on Fourth Street opens Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting. It's one part of a $899,741 renovation that also improved the road and drainage. And it's part of a long-range plan to link neighborhoods to parks, businesses, schools and transit stops through a series of continuous bike and pedestrian paths.
Now people will be able to travel continuously on sidewalks from Largo's Cleveland Street south to Eighth Avenue SW, where they can head east past Largo Middle School on another urban trail, finished in 2006. At Central Park Drive, they can turn north to the Largo Cultural Center and the Largo Library.
Although the sidewalks have not been updated west near Clearwater/Largo Road, the Fourth Street project is considered a link to Taylor Park and the Pinellas Trail to the west, said Carol Stricklin, the city's community development director.
"Someday, I'd like to see all of Largo linked to the urban trail system," Stricklin said.
Debi Hunter, who owns the Cottage Cafe and Sidedoor Antiques on First Street, believes the urban trail will bring more foot traffic to her 12-year-old business.
"When I first opened, sidewalks were part of the original city vision to revitalize downtown, to make it a walking area," she said. "I think it's wonderful, whenever sidewalks are put in."
Barbara Lowman lives in Palm Hill Country Club off Eighth Avenue SW and Seminole Boulevard. She walks about a mile to her job at the Pinellas School Administration Building on Fourth Street SW.
She and her neighbors have been watching the work progress. "Some neighbors have asked me if there will be benches along the route where they can rest during their walking groups."
As of now, no benches are planned, Stricklin said. The route will eventually be lined with elms and crape myrtles, she said.
The city's next urban trail project will be the Highland Avenue Corridor linking the Highland Recreation Complex, the new Community Center and the Central Park Nature Preserve.
Jim Pierce, who also works at the Pinellas County schools building, appreciates the effort but worries about the cost.
"With the economy the way it has been, you have to wonder if the cost is justified," he said.
He would have preferred the city complete the path between Alternate Keene and Lake first, because of the new community center opening there.
Stricklin says construction on that section was delayed by a legal issue, but that issue has been resolved and the project will begin soon.
Stricklin concedes that times have been challenging. Some development plans have been put on hold, she said, but the quality of the community continues to improve.
"As the economy improves, you'll see the investment pay off."