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Consider stadium's neighbors, too

St. Petersburg officials have put together a comprehensive plan for managing traffic on days when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play baseball at Tropicana Field. It involves moving traffic in and out, getting fans parked in remote lots and ferrying them to the baseball field. Now the city should add one more element: protection for residents who live near the domed stadium and who do not want their streets and yards turned into parking lots.

The city's traffic plan calls for paid parking closest to the stadium to be the most expensive. This is to encourage drivers to use the remote lots and shuttle buses to keep congestion near the field down as much as possible. Still, it is a sure bet that some baseball fans will try to sidestep the city's plan and look for free parking close to Tropicana Field. That means as many as 15,000 cars could be trolling nearby neighborhood streets looking for spaces on game days.

Traffic engineers in St. Petersburg believe a permit system for parking would protect residents. It sounds like a sensible idea that does not involve drastic change. Those who live in a neighborhood would have a bumper sticker, decal or hang tag for their rearview mirror identifying them as residents. During a couple of hours before and during a game, parking in the neighborhoods would be prohibited except for those with permits. That way police could easily spot and ticket illegally parked cars.

A fine would have to be stiff, in the $25 range so fans don't just accept it as a cost of parking at a Devil Rays game. That and other details, such as what residents would do about visitors, would have to be worked out.

Businesses near the dome will face the same traffic problem as the residential areas. They will need a clear path for customers and a place for them to park. Meters set for less than game time but allowing enough time for customers to visit stores should help the commercial districts.

When there are no games or special events scheduled at Tropicana Field, traffic and parking patterns would remain as they are now.

Whether traffic regulation is put in place is up to the neighborhoods, however. Residents should take advantage of the city's offer to help. The arrival of Major League Baseball is supposed to be a welcome event, not one that complicates the lives of those living near the stadium. A meeting is scheduled for tonight where residents from neighborhoods near Tropicana Field have an opportunity to make their views known. Traffic officials are particularly interested in hearing from Palmetto Park, Historic Kenwood, Mirror Lake, Uptown, Roser Park, Campbell Park, Methodist Town, James Clearview and University Park.

The meeting on traffic management is scheduled for 7 tonight in the main auditorium of the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N.

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