Before St. Petersburg abandons plans to complete a bike and pedestrian trail through one of its oldest neighborhoods, both sides should go back to the drawing board. Canceling the trail segment through Roser Park would be a loss for trail users, the city and the neighborhood.
The Historic Booker Creek Trail, encircling downtown and paralleling the bayfront, has long been planned and already exists through Campbell Park south of Tropicana Field. The Roser Park extension would begin at Sixth Avenue S and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and follow the creek southeast through the neighborhood, a hilly, hidden enclave of about 130 homes that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The segment would end at 11th Avenue S and Third Street, but it would tie in to other trail segments that will pass the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Dalí Museum and downtown waterfront parks.
Transportation impact fees paid by developers would cover the estimated $2.3 million cost.
Roser Park residents fighting the trail say it is inappropriate for a historic district, will destroy too many trees, will disrupt the neighborhood's ambience and will threaten its security by providing an additional access point.
The trail is not fully designed yet, but it is proposed to parallel Booker Creek in an existing linear city park. The proposal calls for much of the current narrow and uneven 5-foot-wide sidewalk to be replaced by a paved trail about 10 feet wide with a 2-foot border of pavers on each side. In particularly steep sections, low retaining walls and a handrail might be necessary. The trail would meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, providing an amenity for the handicapped that is unlike any other trail in Pinellas.
Though some who live in Roser Park, including longtime neighborhood leader Kai Warren, support the trail, residents who spoke at a recent City Council meeting said they had surveyed the neighborhood and 81 percent of residents they contacted oppose it. Evan Mory, the city's transportation and parking management director, said he doubts that the city will build the trail if that many residents continue to oppose it.
It is a challenging project. The park is so narrow and heavily forested that up to 90 trees might have to be removed to make space for the 1-mile trail. Some Roser Park residents suggested putting the trail on the streets instead, but they are too narrow. And the city has been unable to find an alternative route south of Roser Park, raising the specter of a big gap in the Historic Booker Creek Trail. Walkers and bicyclists would have to find their own way through — a safety risk.
Instead, the city should seek solutions for keeping the trail in Roser Park, including altering the design if possible to address concerns. And opponents should consider two big advantages to hosting the trail: Recreational trails usually raise nearby property values. And people introduced to Roser Park through the trail could end up sharing the residents' understanding of its historic value and the need to preserve it.