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.
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.
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.