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Two Bayshores, two different takes on pandemic in St. Pete and Tampa

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor passed on a request to close part of Bayshore Boulevard. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman shut down Bayshore Drive NE to cars.
Bayshore Drive NE in St. Petersburg, left, will be closed starting Friday morning until further notice. Meanwhile, officials in Tampa on Thursday decided against closing Bayshore Boulevard.
Bayshore Drive NE in St. Petersburg, left, will be closed starting Friday morning until further notice. Meanwhile, officials in Tampa on Thursday decided against closing Bayshore Boulevard. [ Google Earth ]
Published May 21, 2020

Thursday played out much differently on opposite sides of the bay when it came to scenic roadways, the coronavirus and political philosophies on social distancing.

Call it the tale of two Bayshores.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman shut down Bayshore Drive NE at the edge of downtown so that residents would have more room to exercise after two months of being cooped up.

Across the bay in Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor’s administration balked at a city council request to consider shutting down the waterside lanes of Bayshore Boulevard, citing concerns about crowds gathering during the pandemic.

Castor’s move dismayed transportation activists who have lobbied for an array of safety measures for Tampa’s iconic Bayshore, which has witnessed several highly-publicized traffic fatalities in recent years.

Kriseman’s action was cheered on social media by residents eager to take advantage of that scenic waterfront, albeit considerably less trafficked, road.

Tampa’s mobility director told city council members that the mayor supports the Open Streets concept, which seeks to activate public spaces through temporary street closures and other adjustments. But now isn’t the right time for Bayshore, he said.

“The concern is to limit any kind of congregation,” said Vik Bhide during a virtual meeting.

The city has shut down streets downtown, in Hyde Park and in Ybor City to encourage people to dine and shop while maintaining social distancing.

But Bayshore Boulevard covers 4.5 miles. Bhide said the city hadn’t even considered how much of that length may be potentially closed.

Kriseman had a different take for the Sunshine City, saying in a statement he’d been looking for opportunities to help residents stretch their legs. And that shuttering a relatively short part of Bayshore Drive NE was a good fit.

“While this is a small stretch of road, it is heavily used and should give residents and visitors the chance to further spread out. I am hopeful it will be used wisely," he said.

Bayshore Drive will be closed until further notice from Second Avenue NE, behind the Museum of Fine Arts, along North Straub Park up to 5th Avenue NE at the foot of the The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.

The museum is currently closed, but staff will still have access to parking. If the museum reopens before the road does, they’ll work with the city to figure out parking, said Julie Wilson, the museum’s director of marketing and communications.

“We’re happy to have that area available for people to exercise and increase their physical distance,” she said, “but right now while the museum is closed it does have minimal impact on us.”

Tampa City Council Chairman Guido Maniscalco, along with council member John Dingfelder, proposed that the city close the two northbound lanes on Bayshore Boulevard one Sunday a month beginning in June. That request won 6-1 approval from council members last month.

Maniscalco said it’s time for Florida’s third-largest city to start thinking seriously how to move people on bikes and their feet.

“We have to become more people-centric than car-centric,” Maniscalco said. “We can’t let this conversation die.”

But Charlie Miranda, the lone dissenter in April’s vote, said the city needs to collect data and study the issue. Where will people park? Where will traffic to MacDill Air Force Base and South Tampa go?

“Once you close that road, it’s everybody’s road. Not just the people on Bayshore,” said Miranda.

Council members voted unanimously to have Castor’s staff report back to them in September on revisiting the monthly closure, and to bring other ideas on how to make the iconic thoroughfare safer.

• • •

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