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Another St. Pete lane repurposing project moves forward

Mark Parker

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City Councilmember John Muhammad helped establish the Fusion 49th Street District. The goal is to foster economic development and walkability along the South St. Petersburg corridor. Photo: Forward Pinellas.

St. Petersburg’s 49th Street South corridor is part of a “High Injury Network” that accounts for 40% of Pinellas County’s serious and fatal vehicular crash injuries while comprising just 3% of area roadways.

City officials and community stakeholders believe a series of changes – including repurposing left lanes – will increase pedestrian safety and promote walkability. A Safe Streets study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and conducted by Forward Pinellas also recommended widening sidewalks and enhancing crosswalks.

City Council members heard the study results, which encompasses the emerging Fusion 49th Street District, at a May 30 committee meeting. Evan Mory, transportation director, said the project provided a unique opportunity to partner with the City of Gulfport as the corridor’s center divides the two municipalities.

“It is one of the most dangerous roadways in the county,” Mory said. “So, the primary purpose of this study is to identify ways to make the road safer, but it’s also intended to improve economic development and livability in the area.”

A graphic highlighting the changes favored by the community stakeholders and city officials. Screengrab.

Minority residents are disproportionately affected by the hazardous corridor, mirroring a national trend. Mory said those demographics encompass 72% of residents on the St. Pete side of 49th Street.

In addition, 10% of those households lack vehicles. An extensive series of community engagements helped inform the study, and pedestrian safety overwhelmingly topped the list of local concerns.

A heavily utilized section of the Pinellas Trail crosses the corridor. Councilmember Copley Gerdes said he and his family frequently traverse the multimodal pathway and share the community’s fears.

“I think my children have been scared for their lives on multiple occasions,” he added. “I really like widening the sidewalks and rights-of-way – it reminds me a little bit of the Central Avenue redevelopment.”

Nearly 5,000 people live around the corridor from 1st Avenue North to 25th Avenue South. Local officials partnered with the Fusion 49th Street District Association to conduct three guided walk audits, create an online crowd-sourced map that received 135 geo-located comments, host an in-person workshop and offer an online survey of consultant recommendations that received over 600 responses.

The study offered two long-term strategies to improve safety. The first would convert the corridor’s four undivided lanes into three with a dedicated left turning lane, bus bays and additional crosswalks.

The plan would provide opportunities for enhanced medians with additional landscaping features. Relocated curbs would increase curbside greenspace. Cheryl Stacks, transportation manager, said the downsides are higher project costs and business and traffic impacts.

The second strategy is to retain the lane configuration and add vertical traffic-calming features via raised crosswalks. That would provide speed moderation at lower costs and reduce construction impacts.

However, Stacks noted the city’s Comprehensive Plan prohibits vertical traffic calming features on arterial roadways. She said the “much lighter touch” would also increase traffic noise and may have minimal safety impacts.

A graphic highlighting the project area and surrounding demographics. The minority population significantly increases on the St. Pete side of the corridor. Screengrab.

Despite recent controversy surrounding lane repurposing, the project’s elected and community stakeholders preferred the first option. City Councilmember Richie Floyd said he is “not afraid to fight for lane repurposing when it comes to safety.”

“I know it’s often uncomfortable, and it’s a trendy topic right now to attack, but safety is my top priority. I think the roadway can handle it.”

Gulfport Vice Mayor Ian O’Hara, who helped establish the Fusion District with Councilmember John Muhammad, expects critics. However, he said his city is “100% behind” the lane repurposing.

Mory explained that the Florida DOT owns 34th Street, the source of recent controversy. State officials have no jurisdiction over 49th Street.

Councilmember Brandi Gabbard said those projects take “political will” and “it’s great to know we’re not walking into that alone. We have partners on the other side of the street.”

“You had me at ‘minimizes crossing distance and exposure,’” Gabbard added. “The fact that we can minimize that for people, I think, just really gets us to a place we need to be throughout this corridor.”

Transportation officials will also explore adding a roundabout, a community request, at the misconfigured intersection of 49th Street and 18th Avenue South. Gerdes called navigating that area “dodgy, at best.”

The committee unanimously approved a resolution supporting the lane repurposing strategy. Mory noted St. Petersburg and Gulfport will each budget $750,000 for further evaluation and physical improvements.

Stacks said city officials can begin upgrading existing crosswalks, refreshing pavement markings, ensuring ramps are wheelchair accessible and beautifying current medians. “This is something that can help the people of both of our cities, who don’t care about the city boundaries when they’re shopping, working, going to school – all of that,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll.

“I really appreciate that there was such great participation and collaboration with the Fusion 49th Street District Association.”

Editors note: This story was updated to correct crash data.

 

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sima Damijan

    June 5, 2024at9:57 pm

    No traffic enforcement? Tell that to the motorcycle officer that sits on 49st around just before disston plaza.

  2. Avatar

    Sandhillsrider

    June 5, 2024at2:18 pm

    49th street is too narrow all the way from Gulfport to 38th Ave no. When rounding lake Sheffield the lane continuing north on 49th Street has a choke point that definitely should be widened.

  3. Avatar

    Darren Ginn

    June 4, 2024at8:46 pm

    I agree with the comments from Lauren Lopez.
    No matter the road enhancements and attempts at traffic calming, the majority of drivers continue their reckless behaviors no matter what they encounter.
    These reckless drivers have absolutely no respect for others and are completely absorbed in themselves as they commit every counterproductive behavior there is.

    If full time law enforcement were to hold drivers accountable, there would be enough fines collected to fund every conceivable government program.
    So many of us ask why simple law enforcement is not happening with the increasing number of reckless drivers who put others at risk.

  4. Avatar

    Lauren Lopez

    June 4, 2024at4:41 pm

    I take 49th St S all the time to avoid the interstate. If there was actual TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT, some of these issues would go away. Especially in St. Petersburg where there is virtually NO traffic enforcement. It is totally lawless out there. Putting up occasional speed traps is lame and not the same as actual enforcement. I will admit that stretch of 49th is narrow as all get out and is a pretty wild ride until you clear 5th Ave N. But won’t it be a living night mare while they put this plan in place. I hope this ends up being the improvement everyone needs but writing some tickets instead of investigating accidents seems like a fine idea also.

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