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Pinellas should lead the way in light rail

Is Pinellas County on the fast track for adding a light rail system? A vote next week by the County Commission to put a sales tax increase on next year's ballot could set things in motion. Most commissioners favor adding the question to the ballot, but how will voters react?

The pipe dream of evolving into a true metropolitan region starts with mass transit.

There are a couple of reasons why Pinellas should lead the effort for the region:

• Tourists shouldn't have to rent a car to enjoy beaches and downtown.

• Pinellas is the most densely populated county in the state. There are lots of people here with places to go.

• All roads lead to U.S. 19: Try driving to certain destinations in Pinellas Park, Largo, Clearwater or Dunedin from St. Petersburg.

• It lays the groundwork for expanding a regional route to Tampa/Hillsborough County.

If voters approve the measure, the penny tax increase would raise about $120 million a year. That money would go toward building a commuter light rail system.

The 24-mile, "Y" shaped route map shows the rail system going from downtown Clearwater to the Gateway area to downtown St. Petersburg.

Also, some of the money raised from the tax increase would be used to overhaul the bus system, which despite an increase in ridership, is just a step above systems in some Third World countries.

To be clear, not everyone is on board with the increase.

Some elected officials worry that 2014 is too soon, while an influx of PSTA riders and other forward-thinking residents wonder why the measure wasn't on the 2012 ballot.

Imagine planning an evening that starts with dinner in Dunedin, a concert or theater in St. Petersburg and a cocktail later at a trendy bar on the beach — all without a worry about driving or parking. This is a scenario that points the way to growth for the region.

If this plan holds, I hope there's a plan to improve bus routes in the Pinellas Point and Midtown areas. Currently there are little to no routes west of Fourth Street after 7 p.m.

There's plenty of reason for optimism, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Here's hoping the measure doesn't get stalled on the tracks. Let's keep it moving.

Giving up on evening hours

It was a good idea that failed to gain traction.

Since last fall, the Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market extended its hours into the evening on the first Tuesday of each month. Last week, the market's coordinator, Daniel Hodge, made the decision to discontinue evening hours.

In its seventh year, the weekly market, held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round along Beach Boulevard, is a throwback to old Florida. It has a small-town vibe, but with a funky edge. Some vendors from the larger Saturday Morning Market can be found there.

But despite its growing popularity, promotions and advertising, there just wasn't enough foot traffic to warrant continuing those hours.

Downtown gets national notice

Location really matters.

More than a month ago, ArtPlace released a report that included the Sunshine City on a list of Top ArtPlaces for 2013 by Art Place America.

The list of 33 cities includes our neighbors across the pond — Tampa — for its downtown and River Arts District.

Oddly enough, the process in selecting the city had as much to do with its ZIP code, businesses and walkability to neighborhoods as with art-related institutions.

So based on the report's findings, 33701 scored well when measured against the initial 33,000 cities that Impresa Inc., a Portland-based consulting firm, started with.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at sgadsden@tampabay.com or at (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.

Pinellas should lead the way in light rail 02/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 16, 2013 4:29pm]

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