Fewer big trees, but more trails along First Street N in St. Petersburg

If you are wondering about what looks like construction activity on First Street N in St. Petersburg, you're not alone. The Doc noticed it and so have many readers who have written in to express dismay about the trees that have been removed.

Reader Mike Weber wrote:

"Doc, what's up with all the construction prep on First Street N from 30th Avenue N to 54th Avenue N? Dozens of large mature trees have been cut down, all of the utility poles are being set back and survey markers indicate construction to come. Is this a new lane of traffic? I drive it every day, and that doesn't make any sense at all. The same goes for a bike lane. It seems like a huge waste of money that has destroyed some beautiful trees and lowered the value of all the homes that will now be just a few feet away from the pavement."

The tree removal was indeed preparation for the next phase of the ongoing CityTrails project, which began in 2003 with the goal of developing bicycle and pedestrian accommodations throughout St. Petersburg. The North Bay Trail, which will run from 30th Avenue N to 54th Avenue N, will be a concrete recreational trail for bicyclists and pedestrians along the east side of First Street and will vary in width from about 10 to 12 feet, according to Cheryl Stacks, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. Stacks told us that other sections of the North Bay Trail that connect north to Rio Vista Park and south to the downtown waterfront and the Pinellas Trail have already been built or are under construction.

As everyone who travels the corridor has seen, construction work has begun, and the project should take about nine months to complete.

Regarding the cutting down of trees, Stacks said efforts were made during the design process to avoid eliminating trees, but some could not be spared. But, she said, the city will replace trees that have been cut down.

"For those that are removed, the city will replace those at a ratio of 2-to-1, bearing in mind the caliper of those trees. As an example, if a 12" tree were removed, two 6" trees would be planted along the trail as a replacement," Stacks wrote in an e-mail last week.

Why do the sound barriers have holes?

Reader Calvin Knowles spends a lot of time on the road throughout the state and contacted the Doc recently to inquire about a design feature he has noticed on the interstate but can't figure out. Knowles wrote:

"Many new sound barriers are being installed on busy highways from Miami to Tampa. I think that's great for the people who live behind them, but I do have a question about the barriers. Every so often, there is a hole in the sound barrier panels, about waist high, with some kind of plug. They look to be about big enough for someone's arm to go through. What are these holes for? I've heard theories — communication portals for the people behind the walls, snake escape hatches — but no one seem to know for sure."

We checked in with Kris Carson of the state Department of Transportation who told us that the holes are emergency ports used by firefighters to gain access to fire hydrants. Not as fun as escape routes for snakes, but good to know.

Please e-mail Dr. Delay at docdelay@yahoo.com to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions. Questions selected for publication may be edited for space and clarity.

Fewer big trees, but more trails along First Street N in St. Petersburg 10/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 9, 2010 5:30am]

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