Advertisement
  1. Transportation

Whether St. Pete Beach likes it or not, rapid buses are likely heading its way

St. Pete Beach residents listen Tuesday evening to another resident address the issue of dangerous streets. They also weren’t thrilled with a plan to connect rapid buses to downtown St. Petersburg. [ANGELIQUE HERRING   |   Times]
St. Pete Beach residents listen Tuesday evening to another resident address the issue of dangerous streets. They also weren’t thrilled with a plan to connect rapid buses to downtown St. Petersburg. [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
Published Jun. 12, 2019

ST. PETE BEACH — Whether residents want it or not, it became apparent Tuesday evening that sooner or later rapid transit buses will one day drive along Gulf Boulevard.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials spent about an hour describing the need for and benefits of initiating rapid bus service that would connect downtown St. Petersburg to hotels and businesses in St. Pete Beach.

The overflow audience listened — though not always politely — as the city's commissioners bluntly told the bus authority's interim director of communications, Whitney Fox, that they were not convinced.

FACT CHECK: Lost lanes, 'monster buses' and more: Fact-checking St. Pete's rapid bus project

The commissioners also made it clear that they did not want the buses to travel beyond 75th Avenue near Corey Avenue — short of Gulf Boulevard, all of its businesses, hotels and restaurants, and the beach itself.

Then Forward Pinellas executive director Whit Blanton burst out of his seat at the rear of the commission chambers to interrupt.

"This is the must-do, No. 1 priority project in Pinellas County," he said. "There is a bigger picture than this small beach community."

That's because it would become the first rapid bus service in Pinellas County, and the Tampa Bay region. The St. Pete Beach audience protested loudly. Blanton ignored them, adding rapid bus service is "important to the whole county."

The commission suggested that the city could operate smaller-sized transit vehicles that would pick up rapid bus service passengers at 75th Avenue and take them to their destinations, Blanton said an extra transfer point would "kill" the project.

After the meeting, Blanton was more conciliatory. He said the bus authority would be willing to keep negotiating with the city because they do not want an "angry" St. Pete Beach.

He also stressed that the project won't cost the city anything. Gulf Boulevard is a state road, the beach access park where the buses would use to turn around is owned by the county, and the city is not being asked to contribute any funding.

The new bus route is expected to cost about $40 million, an amount that would be funded up to 50 percent by the federal government, 25 percent by the county and the remainder by "local fund" of either public or private money.

"We don't need St. Pete Beach," Blanton said, except as a destination.

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: RAPID BUSES

St. Pete's new bus line forces a choice: Bike lanes or parking?

St. Pete Beach: PSTA misled feds about bus rapid transit project

The bus authority's plan calls for dedicating special lanes for most of bus route, running from downtown St. Petersburg along First avenues N and S. The buses would then turn onto Pasadena Avenue S and travel down Gulf Boulevard. The 40-foot long buses would serve a number of stops along Gulf Boulevard ending at the county's beach access park. They would run every 15 minutes, and would be in addition to two trolley buses operating on Gulf Boulevard at any given hour.

Bus authority officials have argued that rapid bus service would reduce car traffic, enhance property values, reduce taxes and allow residents and tourists to entertain themselves both on the beach and in downtown St. Petersburg for $5 or less round trip.

Meanwhile, St. Pete Beach officials are waiting for the city manager to return from vacation to re-open "round two" of negotiations with the bus authority.

"I'm just trying to make this work instead of just saying 'no'," said commissioner and former mayor Ward Friszolowski.

Mayor Alan Johnson repeatedly asked Fox and her colleagues if a bus rapid service terminus at 75th Avenue was still an "option" but he did not get an answer. Nor could anyone answer his question whether the current trolley service from St. Petersburg could be used to test the need for a rapid transit system.

Correction: A round trip on the new bus route would cost $5 or less, according to the PSTA. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect cost.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The area will be closed to drivers headed north and south from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. through Friday.
  2. A scooter rider navigates Platt Street on Friday morning during the calm before the storm — successive weekends of downtown Gasparilla parades. Scooter companies like Jump warn users it’s a violation of their rental agreement to operate one while under the influence. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    One company decided to pull its scooters Jan. 25 ‘out of an abundance of caution for riders and those participating in Gasparilla.’
  3. Delta Air Lines said Friday it will launch five new round-trip routes a day between Tampa and Miami starting May 4. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) [MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP]
    Delta says the daily nonstop Miami service will create new connections for Tampa travelers to fly to Latin America and other international destinations.
  4. Tampa International Airport is building a new bike and pedestrian path that will loop around its under-construction SkyCenter office and hotel development and cell phone waiting lot. Eventually, that path is planned to connect to a network of regional biking and pedestrian trails. [Tampa International Airport]
    Tampa’s airport is the nation’s first to receive the designation from the nonprofit League of American Bicyclists. It was also the first to apply.
  5. In this photo from video, Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai, China, dumps fuel over Los Angeles before returning to Los Angeles International Airport for an emergency landing Tuesday. Fuel dumped by the airliner making an emergency return Tuesday to the airport due to an engine problem fell onto three schools, causing minor irritation to 40 children and adults, officials said. (AP Photo/Matt Hartman) [MATT HARTMAN  |  AP]
    The fuel, described by fire officials as a vapor, caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults but nobody was taken to the hospital.
  6. Draped against the St. Petersburg skyline on Tuesday evening on January 14, 2020, the Bella Vita is visible as it docks in Port St. Pete. The yacht is nearly 250 feet long and costs about $650,000 to charter for a week in the winter, according to broker Moran Yacht and Ship. It can accommodate 12 passengers between its six staterooms and six decks, and a staff of 22. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
    Meet the Bella Vita, a yacht almost too luxurious to believe.
  7. Ridge Road in Pasco County currently ends at Moon Lake Road. [Tampa Bay Times]
    At a ground-breaking ceremony, officials laud a road more than 30 years in the making.
  8. Readers question who determines how long a traffic light will remain either red or green and what factors go into that decision in the latest Dr. Delay. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Who controls the timing of the lights in Tampa Bay? Dr. Delay gets some answers.
  9. Pinellas bus drivers carry tips on spotting signs of human trafficking under a new program called, "We are the Eyes Of The City." Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses also carry the anti-trafficking message, "See something, say something." [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    ‘Eyes on the city’ now include nearly 400 operators with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
  10. This rendering from the Florida Department of Transportation shows the eight foot tall steel netting that will be added to the Sunshine Skyway later this year to deter suicidal people from jumping from the iconic span. [Florida Department of Transportation]
    The 8-foot-tall steel netting will run along about a mile and a half of the iconic span that for decades has been a magnet for people seeking to take their own lives.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement