Five downtown St. Petersburg transit providers have joined forces on Car Free Living, a communications campaign to encourage people to think about ways of getting around downtown other than automobiles.
“The intention is to remind people there are lots of transportation options,” said Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “We’re a very car-centric society and community, but as our urban center continues to grow it’s more important to think creatively and holistically about transportation options.”
The initiative could play a role in growing St. Petersburg’s downtown business cluster. Parking currently is limited and businesses interested in relocating or expanding downtown are looking for transit options for their workers, said Whitney Fox, a spokeswoman for Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
There are other benefits as well.
“This is the No. 1 way to reduce carbon emissions to help the environment. It’s also good for the economy as more businesses will be visited by more people who are walking or on bikes versus just driving down Central,” Fox said.
Car Free Living quietly launched last fall, when PSTA and the Downtown Partnership rolled out a revamped and expanded Downtown Looper trolley service, Fox said. It has since expanded to a consortium that also includes Coast Bike Share, The Nickel Ride and the Cross Bay Ferry, in addition to the Looper and PSTA busses.
Car Free Living was spotlighted at the Downtown Partnership’s March 6 lunch, which focused on ONE St. Petersburg, the 41-story condo tower at 100 1st Ave. N. Mathis said people who live at ONE and other downtown residential developments have told him part of the appeal is the ability to get around downtown without getting into their cars.
The name is a bit of a misnomer, Mathis said.
“We’re not trying to get rid of cars. We value cars. We drive cars. We understand the importance of cars. But we recognize that in an urban center, cars are not always the most convenient way to get around,” Mathis said at the Partnership lunch.
He expanded on that in an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst.
“Even if people choose to drive downtown, we hope they only have to find a parking place once, and they can access everything in the downtown area without having to get back in their car. We’re hoping to make it convenient and easy for people not to give up their car completely but to use their car a little less,“ Mathis said.
The Downtown Partnership and PSTA have some funding from a Florida Department of Transportation grant to promote commuter choices, but there’s been very little spent on the campaign so far, Mathis said. He described it as “very grassroots,“ primarily appearing on social media as @CarFreeStPete.
PSTA is working with FKQ Advertising + Marketing on the initiative, and it could get a higher profile in April, in connection with Earth Day, when PSTA is considering issuing a car-free challenge to St. Petersburg residents, Fox said.