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Safety advocates unveil "Complete Streets" report to make St. Petersburg safer for biking, walking

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (behind podium) was one of those who spoke Tuesday about the "Complete Streets for St. Pete" report to make the city's street design safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]
Published May 10, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — The movement to make the city's streets safer unveiled a new report outside Perkins Elementary School on Tuesday aimed at making the city's roads safer, including the troublesome one outside the school, 18th Avenue S.

Two of the 14 pedestrian fatalities that took place in the city last year, advocates said, occurred on 18th Avenue S.

"Our streets should be safe, whether you're 8 or 80 years old," Lisa Frank of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "Many streets in St. Petersburg were designed decades ago for the fast movement of cars instead of the safe movement of people."

The network and Frontier Group released the city's "Complete Streets for St. Pete" report on Tuesday, which is an initiative to redesign streets to make them safer for biking, walking and using transit, and that in turn will make the city's populace healthier.

The St. Petersburg-Tampa-Clearwater area was ranked the seventh most dangerous metro area in the country for pedestrian safety by Smart Growth America, the national organization behind the complete streets initiative.

Pedestrian fatalities have been on the rise and lack of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure has contributed to other safety issues as well, advocates said.

"Most of St. Petersburg's major streets are poorly suited for people walking and biking, with layouts that can make it dangerous and intimidating to get around on foot and bike," the report said.

The report also identified which neighborhoods are least served by walking and biking infrastructure, and proposed solutions.

The report, the results of a methodology including audits of neighborhoods inspected by volunteers walking on foot, identified Midtown and other southern neighborhoods as having higher rates of asthma, obesity and lack of physical activity. Those neighborhoods, which include Childs Park, Jordan Park, Melrose-Mercy/Pine Acres, 13th Street Heights, Harbordale and Methodist Town, also has poor infrastructure for safe walking and biking.

The report said Midtown in particular has two main roadways that are dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians alike: the east-west corridors of 18th Avenue S and 22nd Avenue S.

While 18th Avenue S has continuous sidewalks, the report said it is missing bike lanes and lacks curb ramps and limited crosswalks, which hamper the safety of those trying to reach bus stops. Sidewalks are lacking along much of the north side of 22nd Avenue S, the report said, and no distinct bike lanes exist.

"Streets like 18th have sidewalks, but they're not fully designed to encourage and accommodate walking," Frank said. "In some places, sidewalks are only 4 feet wide, which isn't wide enough for someone in a wheelchair to get through with another person. Or the sidewalks might be broken or cracked or not provide curb ramps.

"There's a lot of little things we can be doing throughout the city in the regular maintenance systems to make it more walking and biker friendly."

That's in contrast to the affluent areas of the city such as the Downtown and Broadwater neighborhoods, which also had the most people walking and biking to work, the report said.

"Complete Streets will not cure poverty," the report said, "but by making streets better for walking and biking in poor neighborhoods, St. Petersburg could improve health outcomes for residents ... and reduce the health and economic burdens posed by car-focused transportation."

Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city has invested $1 million toward building complete streets this fiscal year by installing 103 flashing pedestrian lights at crosswalks and building 200 "bulb-outs," or curb extensions, to slow down vehicles and give pedestrians more safety space. The mayor said the city has more work to do and intends to invest the same amount next year.

"Today, more than 15 percent of workers downtown walk or bike to work because we've invested in the infrastructure," he said. "We can improve the health and safety by expanding these streets to every neighborhood in St. Pete."

The report, which will be presented to the City Council later this year, also recommended creating protected or buffered bike lanes, lowering speed limits and creating greenways in neighborhoods to calm the flow and speed of traffic.

Erin Adams, the mother of a 9-year-old girl, who lives in the Euclid-St. Paul neighborhood, said the idea of riding their bikes right now is dangerous.

"We would love to be able to ride our bikes downtown or to all the wonderful parks around," she said. "But you can feel the wind from cars going by."

Frank said at current speeds, drivers only have a 17 percent chance of yielding to city pedestrians: "That's not a chance I'd be willing to take with a child."

Curtis Holloman, senior director of grants and programs for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, which awarded more than $170,000 to the complete streets project, said many cities are looking to street improvements to spur economic growth.

Kriseman said improved streets doesn't just make the city safer and healthier. It also makes St. Petersburg more attractive to businesses and younger residents.

"A lot of times the differences between where a company chooses to locate or not locate is based on quality of life," he said. "Having a city that is safe to walk in, safe to ride bikes in contributes to that quality of life.

"Millennials, in particular, don't want to own cars. They want to have good walking, and good bike paths and good mass transit. We're working on all three of those things."

Contact Divya Kumar at dkumar@tampabay.com. Follow @divyadivyadivya.

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