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Car-Free St. Pete proposes new project to transform downtown streets

Veronica Brezina

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A rendering of The Straza St. Pete concept. Image: Urban Arts Inc. for Car-Free St. Pete.

The Car-Free St. Pete group is proposing to create a pedestrian-focused loop downtown. 

The project called the St. Pete Straza would transform existing streets into a three-plus mile loop that combines the elements of a street, a plaza and a park. 

“It would transform automobile-dominated streets in downtown into a more comfortable environment for people to walk, stroll, play and create community. This would be accomplished by transforming existing streets to prioritize pedestrian activity by removing curbs, expanding sidewalks, adding landscaping, and slowing cars to speeds that are compatible with pedestrian activities,” according to the organization’s website. 

A rendering show a public plaza setting for the concept. Image: Urban Arts Inc. for Car-Free St. Pete.

Car-Free St. Pete is the same group that created the Car-Free Halloween on Central Avenue event. The initiative called for two miles of road along Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete to be shut off to cars, creating a pedestrian-only experience. The event, held in 2021, was projected to attract 10,000, but that number wildly grew to more than 40,000 people. 

“Following the Halloween on Central event, we decided to take a more advocacy approach to develop a concept that would create a safe space that could [almost always] be car-free,” said Nicole Roberts, a Car-Free St. Pete organizer and the community outreach coordinator at the St. Pete Downtown Partnership. 

She credited local architect and urbanist Michael Huston, founder of Urban Arts Inc., for proposing the concept. 

“He thought of creating a linear pedestrian park that would be in downtown. The committee loved that idea,” Roberts said.

Huston coined the word “Straza” by combining the terms “street” and “plaza.” 

Car-Free St. Pete’s map, created by Huston, shows the envisioned Straza route circulating by popular destinations such as The Dali Museum, Tropicana Field, Mirror Lake and the St. Pete Pier District. It also shows alternative connections to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus and Uptown, by going along 4th Avenue South and Arlington Avenue North. 

The preliminary route of the Straza intersects with Central Avenue in three locations. 

A map of the three-mile loop. Image: Urban Arts Inc. for Car-Free St. Pete.

Roberts said the group biked the route to get a sense of its feasibility. 

She said 4th and 5th Avenues South could be enhanced and better made for biking. She also stated how the interstate spur, which may potentially be removed, could create an opportunity for more green active space. Additionally, the proposed route does go along the site of the Trop. Roberts said when the redevelopment of Booker Creek takes shape, Car-Free St. Pete would like to incorporate it into the Straza.  

The overall goal of the Straza is to open spaces to enhance the experience of walking and using micro-mobility. It would promote micro-mobility by intersecting with mobility hubs such as bus station locations, the Cross-Bay Ferry and bike-sharing sites. 

Some parts of the Straza may be pedestrian-only, while other parts, particularly residential areas, will allow vehicular access at reduced speeds. Roberts added how it would encourage those with mobility issues to enjoy the safe space. 

The group’s site also compares to how this project will differ from the bustling Central Avenue corridor filled with back-to-back restaurants and retail. 

“The vision for the Straza is substantially different than Central Avenue. The Straza will be quieter, more park-like, and less dependent on commercial activity. There may be shops and cafes located here and there, but it is not intended to be a continuous commercial corridor like Central Avenue,” the description read. 

The group says the plan is very preliminary and they will need to garner support from residents and officials. It is also advocating for a downtown master plan that would extend beyond the current waterfront plan and capture the entire downtown area.

If a master plan is not an option, the group said, a feasibility study would be conducted to examine possible routes and establish cost estimates, which have not yet been determined.

Those who would like to provide feedback or support for the project can visit Car-Free St. Pete’s website and fill out a form at the bottom of the page. 

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    rose hayes

    February 3, 2022at12:55 pm

    And will the homeless families be allowed to pitch tents in the ‘Straza?, I’m just asking. We have over 3,500 homeless children in Pinellas County district schools and all you can think of is more spaces to party??

  2. Avatar

    Ray

    February 3, 2022at3:26 pm

    There’s maybe 10 businesses along this proposed route….. plus how are they going to replace all the parking spaces that will be removed….. dump idea and waste of taxpayer dollars!

  3. Avatar

    John Donovan

    February 3, 2022at4:31 pm

    It reads like a fairy tale. Who doesn’t like green grass and unicorns? No mention of property owners. At next weeks meeting they come up with the idea that it will be a “drug-free” and “gun-free zone”? And still no mention of property owners. If I’m so smart, do I have a water idea? Yes. Ask the property owners, hospitals, businesses universities and drivers, what they want. Otherwise it’s just a game.

  4. Avatar

    John Donovan

    February 3, 2022at4:34 pm

    *better idea

  5. Avatar

    David Mapp

    February 3, 2022at5:15 pm

    I’ve lived on both coast in both urban and rural areas, and I do not support your plans, even though I s upport your I ntentions. The real problem is that Central Avenue is too congested with too many bikes, cars, trucks, scooters, lelectric bikes, etc, and there is consideration for pedestrian traffic to encourage businesses and bulding community. Redistrcting/rezoning a secttion of Central Aveue as a car‐free zone would allow for businesses to thrive with greater pedestrian traffic, and allow for ret a ilers to expand, as permitted, to the outdoors. Try applying your idea with this concept instead – I am an immunocompromised cancer patient and a disbled veteran who is at great health risk for venturing indoors. Your idea doesn’t address this issue. In addition, try encouragement of pariing garage development, so people ca park t heir cars in a central location and be encouraged to use your “Straza” concept. Examples supporting my view include the Union Square district in San Francisco, the South Street Seaport development in New York City. Your idea is on track, however you need to step up your game. Question: how does your idea encourage business traffic and business development for minority-owned businesses located south of Central Avenue? An inquiring new Mayor Welch certainly wouldn’t want this unaddressed!

  6. Avatar

    Judith

    February 3, 2022at8:35 pm

    How would you get supplies into the area building materials food to the restaurants how would you receive deliveries would there be an exemption for big delivery trucks. And what about the disabled and elderly how would they get around.This seems impractical originally the idea was to close off the downtown to cars on the weekends this just seems nuts

  7. Avatar

    Pete

    February 4, 2022at5:34 am

    Great idea! More of this please.

  8. Avatar

    Mike

    February 4, 2022at7:49 am

    I strongly support eliminating cars from several roads in this town. Starting with central Ave and Bayshore Dr ne. Central Ave is effectively undrivable in it’s current state.

    St Petersburg has become much more of a car town and less pedestrian in recent years. I believe the pedestrian nature of this town is what makes it special.

    People do not come to St Pete because it has great parking. If people want to go to the Pier, make them park at the trop and vice versa. Get people out of their cars. They’ll spend more money that way.

    A good pedestrian plot is going to be counterintuitive.

    Keep it up!

  9. Avatar

    Mike Connelly

    February 4, 2022at4:14 pm

    How do you get supplies ❓Through alleways …. Hello. You been sitting on your driver seat so long … you’re brains have settled there.

  10. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    February 4, 2022at4:37 pm

    I like the idea of more places to walk instead of drive! More exercise, fresh air, more socializing, more relaxing, plus less noise and air pollution. Car-free areas do not preclude more affordable housing. Delivery issues are valid, but I think they can be overcome.

  11. Avatar

    Jaclyn Swenningsen

    February 4, 2022at4:52 pm

    Not a good idea….Too many long time residents living in and around St. Pete. would not have easy access…many do not ride bikes or scooters or walk that well. We love the arts and many have enough money to patronize the shops, restaurants, theaters, etc. Don’t, give us the ‘boot’ yet….you did away with the benches – let us enjoy an easy way to get around!

    Traffic and parking has put a damper on our cherished downtown….But, we keep building it…and they come!
    Jaclyn S.

  12. Avatar

    MC

    February 4, 2022at5:10 pm

    Totally absurd. Logistics nightmare, business crusher, who is conducting the ROI? What’s the value proposition?
    Sounds nice, horrible idea. Next idea …

  13. Avatar

    louis s orloff

    February 4, 2022at5:14 pm

    I support closing central avenue from Beach Dr to Trop. Stop building the trolley on 1st and on 1st and put it in the middle of central where it can be used. Adjust delivery hours to be something like before 8:00am or create the necessary alleyways.

    O and bring back impact fees. If the developers had not killed these then this would all be paid with their fees!

  14. Avatar

    Stacy

    February 4, 2022at5:48 pm

    I like idea. But problem is cyclists. Now if you are on sidewalk they run you over and claim sidewalks and pavement around parks is for cyclists and to get out of their way. Some really rude people. So if it is not for cars it shouldn’t be for cyclist. It should be for strolling and not be run over by cars nor cyclists nor skateboarders. People who feel it’s there right away or run you over.

  15. Avatar

    Elaine

    February 4, 2022at8:58 pm

    Wonderful idea,but what about the working class that don’t have the luxury of just popping out their front door to go get a bite to eat at lunch time – trying to find parking then trying to get back to work on time it’s discouraging.
    Seems like this is only for students, vacationers and the retired that live in the heart of downtown.

  16. Avatar

    KG

    February 5, 2022at11:23 am

    Great Idea and love the pedestrian concept. Needs further reserch and development to incorporate and help promote future economical growth of businesses and housing in the area. Always will be a push back from people who can’t imagine their lives without depending on a vichicle but it will create a stronger sense of community.

  17. Avatar

    Dr. Jill Treadway

    February 7, 2022at7:48 pm

    I’ve attended the events. It’s really tough for me as a disabled vet. Not enough parking as is, with 2 hour limit for most people. Kind of hard to eat and shop and find a parking spot in 2 hours. Ease no car free, at least have this discussion when if ever we get light rail.

  18. Avatar

    Pat

    February 9, 2022at8:20 am

    When I need to go downtown for lunch with friends and shopping, I don’t want to park and use City transportation. It is already difficult to find parking. The City is catering to a particular group of people as if the remainder of us do not pay taxes or have value. We are trying to drive and have to look out for bicyclists, pedestrians, people on scooters who do not follow the law or rules, soon special buses. I will not get into how you have turned 1st Av N & S into an obstacle course. I see in my future not visiting downtown in the future.

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