ST. PETERSBURG — The city's vision for safer streets that accommodate cars, bikes, buses and pedestrians received a formal stamp of approval Thursday when the City Council passed a resolution four years in the making.
The resolution — which outlines a 'complete streets' program to add crosswalks, lanes for bikes and transit and other safety elements over the next two decades — passed 7 to 1, with council member Ed Montanari voting against it.
About 30 people spoke on the issue, with a majority supporting the city's desire to design its streets for all users, not just drivers. A handful of opponents spoke against the effort, arguing that complete streets features slow down traffic, make it more difficult to drive and endanger cyclists.
"I know some motorists complain that dedicating lanes for cyclists and vehicles impedes traffic and slows it down," Jacqueline Middleton said. "To me it can actually help foster a 'hello neighbor' spirit."
Supporters of the initiative shared stories about creating a healthier, more vibrant community. They credited changes to Martin Luther King Jr. Street and other roads for discovering new businesses, losing weight as they bike instead of drive and helping their families become one-car households.
City staff spent close to an hour listing the benefits of the program, with eight speakers addressing safety, sustainability, health, transportation and economic development.
"The city is working on making the healthy choice the easy choice," said Cassidy Mutnansky of the city's Healthy St. Pete initiative. "It gives our residents the opportunity to choose more active ways to get around."
The city has already begun changing some of its roads to provide options outside of driving.
Last fall, one lane of King Street was converted to add bike lanes in each direction between Fourth and 30th avenues N. More than 60 business representatives signed a petition protesting the changes, and upset residents created a group opposed to additional lane loss projects throughout the city. The group, Citizens Against Lane Loss, has staged protests along the corridor and spoken frequently at council meetings.
While some opinions have changed since the project opened, other individuals have criticized the changes for making their commute more stressful.
"It looks like you all have acted in hostility to the drivers of automobiles," resident Joshua Black told council members Thursday. "Government increases the cost of getting a car and then makes drivers more miserable."
The changes to the vehicle lanes on King Street were expected to increase travel times by 90 seconds, though different groups cite different numbers.
"If one minute makes our streets safer for everyone, let's do it," council member Gina Driscoll said.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.