ST. PETERSBURG — The city is moving forward with a plan to extend its City Trails bike path in front of Eckerd College, despite school concerns that it is unsafe.
The pathway, part of a network of bike lanes and separate bike paths circling the city and connecting to the Pinellas Trail, is slated for the south side of the Pinellas Bayway, passing in front of the college's main entrance at 4200 54th Ave. S. As elsewhere, the City Trails system mostly uses city-owned rights of way.
At Eckerd, bicyclists who are headed west cross two roads: an eastbound exit ramp to the Bayway and the main two-lane entrance to the college. According to one study by the city, 700 cars, or about 11 vehicles per minute, passed through the main entrance in an hour one evening.
Citing that oncoming traffic, Eckerd College officials urged the city to put the path on the north side of Pinellas Bayway. A consultant Eckerd hired did a field visit and concluded that an "operational analysis" of the road should be done before the city builds the path.
This month, both sides exchanged letters and even had representatives meet. But this week, city workers were scouting the area in front of the college even though no agreement has been reached.
"They are not trying to work with us. They are trying to stonewall us whatever chance they get," said William McKenna Jr., the college's director of planning, development and construction. "We have these meetings and we have decisions, and they go away and do whatever they want to do."
Joe Kubicki, the city's director of transportation, countered that it is unsafe to build a bike path on the north side of the Pinellas Bayway because there is not enough room. Moreover, the state Department of Transportation approved designs for the path on the south side. The consultant hired by the city to design the plans, Bayside Engineering, already evaluated safety and operational standards, Kubicki said.
Kubicki said the discussion is not over. As a concession, the city has offered to remove the eastbound exit ramp and make changes to the median. Plans for the trail in front of Eckerd began a year ago, and school officials were always included, he said.
"We're not going to get to this for 60 days or so, so we have time to sit down and go over this," Kubicki said. "This trail is part of a statewide system. We have to build it. What we have to do is meet with them and make them as comfortable as they can be."
Eckerd College is not antibicycle. It recently expanded its Yellow Bike program, which puts about 300 shared bicycles on the 200-acre campus. Most students live on campus, but some ride bikes outside to shop.
McKenna said the school will encourage students to use the bike path, but to enter it at the secondary entrance on 37th Street.
Luis Perez can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2271.