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South St. Pete lane repurposing project moves forward

Mark Parker

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Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, said the Florida Department of Transportation will not use red-dyed asphalt for a 34th Street South lane repurposing project. City Councilmember John Muhammad said that would make it easier to revert the lanes back to through-traffic if the project increases congestion. Photo by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County’s planning agency has approved plans to repurpose an underutilized swath of 34th Street South into bus and right-turn lanes that will support a new express service.

The long-planned project, currently under construction, also includes wider sidewalks, several pedestrian-activated crosswalk signals and a speed limit reduction from 45 mph to 40 mph. Forward Pinellas board members voted 8-3 to include its controversial aspect – eliminating two through-traffic lanes – at a May 8 meeting.

Most St. Petersburg stakeholders support the project. However, some residents and board members expressed concerns about the potential for increased congestion and the lack of a need for dedicated bus lanes.

“This is another way that we can really grow to meet the needs of our residents today and those that are coming,” said City Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “Because, as indicated, we have a lot of development going on right in that area. I trust the data – not the anecdotal stuff we hear out there.”

The two-mile project, first requested by the City of St. Petersburg in 2014, spans from 30th Avenue South through the Skyway Marina District to 54th Avenue. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) oversees the thoroughfare known as Hwy. 19 in other areas.

Bicyclists attempt to cross 34th Street South. Screengrab.

Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, began the presentation by noting that FDOT asked for an official vote on the lane repurposing aspect. The meeting followed a March 25 town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Linda Chaney in St. Pete Beach.

Chaney and many of her constituents have vocally opposed the SunRunner, which uses semi-dedicated lanes to carry passengers to and from downtown St. Petersburg and the coastal community. Blanton said that backlash has extended to the 34th Street project.

He noted that Route 34, which services the area, carries over 1.5 million annual riders. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) committed to implementing a new, limited-stop express service that will run south from Grand Central Station, a SunRunner terminal, to Eckerd College as part of the project.

“This will increase the value of that $40 million investment by providing a direct, faster connection to the SunRunner,” Blanton said.

Studies found that 34th Street’s outermost “curb” lanes receive 60% less traffic due to frequent bus stops and turning vehicles. Blanton said the corridor operates at less than half its vehicular capacity.

However, density is increasing in the once suburban area. Blanton called the initiative a “safety project with a transit component.”

A map of the subject area, with the Skyway Marina District outlined in red. Screengrab, county documents.

Over 700 crashes, with three fatalities, occurred along the two-mile stretch from 2018 to 2023. Half involved bicyclists and pedestrians. Blanton and other proponents believe the changes – including the bus and turn lanes – will reduce those numbers.

“The project can still go forward; the safety pieces can still be added,” said County Commissioner Dave Eggers. “We’re talking about this one lane issue that’s really raised to a different level. It’s much to do about nothing.”

Eggers said PSTA requested the lane repurposing and “doesn’t need it anymore.” Former City Councilmember Darden Rice rebuffed that assertion.

Rice, PSTA’s new chief planning and community affairs officer, said the board’s informational packet included a letter stating the agency’s unambiguous project support. Evan Mory, director of transportation for the City of St. Petersburg, explained that PSTA officials meant they could operate the service without the lane, but repurposing would increase efficiency.

He added that Mayor Ken Welch approaches lane eliminations with a “skeptical eye” but supports the project. City Councilmember John Muhammad, who represents the area, said he feels unsafe crossing 34th Street on foot or bicycle.

The lone resident to speak in opposition lives in Tierra Verde. The board received 86 pages of emails regarding the project, including email from several prominent St. Petersburg stakeholders, with nearly all expressing support.

Blanton said the Skyway Marina District’s Master Plan “was the basis for the request to incorporate the bus and turn lane …” The organization offered one of the few emails in opposition.

However, Dunedin Mayor Jule Ward Bujalski noted that St. Petersburg residents and officials almost unanimously favor repurposing the lanes. She, like Driscoll, said the board should not second-guess transit experts and several years of studies.

“We shouldn’t just unilaterally say no to bus lanes every single place we look at,” Bujalski said. “That’s what I feel is happening, and I’m not biting. If the community wants it, it’s workable and there’s funding for it, why not? I don’t think it’s that difficult.”

 

 

 

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    William Burkholder

    May 20, 2024at1:36 pm

    Most of us do not ride the Bum Runner unless it is for a special occasion and we want to avoid looking for parking downtown! The rest of the time we sit in traffic daily on 1st Ave North and South avoiding the same congestion we used to only experience on Ray’s Days! The original reason given for this project was to prepare Saint Petersburg for the elimination of vehicle traffic when we were ordered! [moderated]

  2. Avatar

    JohnB

    May 16, 2024at9:59 pm

    PSTA, the Pinellas County Commission, the City of St. Petersburg and all the cities in the County contributing taxpayers’ money to PSTA should agree on a few basic points:

    1. PSTA is a failure since its inception and especially since 2015 when ridership began declining
    every year and is projected to decline in 2024. PSTA is a failure because it spends enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money to provide service to less than 1.5% of the population. The whole idea of paying taxes is to serve ALL of the people, not just 1.5% of the population.

    2. Some would say that roads are “subsidized,” which is not true. Roads are paid for by 100% of the people and are USED by 100% of the people. Every single person depends on roads for personal transportation as well as deliveries of goods to all kinds of stores, restaurants, homes, offices, etc. Buses do not eliminate or even make a small dent in the number of vehicles required to support more than 1 million in the county (residents plus visitors).

    3. The 2024 budget is $188 MILLION with projected ridership of 10 million. Ridership is the number of boardings, not the number of individuals using the buses. We can assume all trips are round trips which is two boardings. That means a maximum of 5 million individuals over 365 days or 13,700/day. Yes, some differences depend on work days, holidays, weekends, etc. There are also differences if a rider transfers, which means 4 “rides” for a round trip.

    4. $188 Million/10 Million = $18.80 per ride, almost $38/round trip. PSTA claims to provide transportation for people who cannot afford a car. Those people who qualify (EBT card, Medicaid, etc.) could be issued Uber/Lyft debit cards good for some number of rides per month and it would be a lot less expensive than taxpayers supporting a system of underutilized buses driving all over the county every day. Those riders would also have point-to-point transportation on demand and not worry about schedules and distances to bus stops.

    5. Riders pay a total of $7,352,200 for those 10 million rides or about $0.75 per trip (which might be two rides if there is a transfer). Taxpayers make up the remaining cost of $18.05/ride.

    6. According to PSTA, “The SunRunner travels the region’s highest ridership corridor in the state’s most densely populated county.” The SunRunner cost taxpayers $50 Million plus operating expenses. According to current published data, ridership is about 50,000/month or 25,000 round trips, about 833 people per day.
    That is very low ridership for buses running 7 days/week, every 15 minutes from 6am to 8pm and every 30 minutes from 8pm-midnight. That is 64 buses available at 30 stations every day, all for a total of 833 people.

    Adding extra buses and lanes to 34th Street is just as unnecessary and just as costly as the SunRunner.
    Millions of taxpayers’ dollars will be spent for the benefit of a very small part of the population.

  3. Avatar

    John Donovan

    May 16, 2024at6:20 pm

    An impulsive foolish action by politicians who desperately wish to see their name on a project. 1.5mm riders? In that area? I doubt it! Maybe on the entire route 15-25 mile stretch of 34 St South, North and US 19 equivalent. The 1st Ave N. & S. bus lane project is overkill and unnecessary. Doubling down on the mistake is typical arrogant government. Pretty bus stops stations get bureaucrats and NGOs and their allies excited. They put pictures in brochures and show off when they go to national city conferences. Revisit this idea in 10 years when 34St S as a residential and commercial area is largely rebuilt. The lanes will still be there.

  4. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    May 15, 2024at9:34 pm

    This will only make 34th Street less safe. I avoid it as much as I can and I live down near 54th Ave So.

  5. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    May 15, 2024at8:06 pm

    Red dyed asphalt is the MOST EXPENSIVE type and does not hold up in Florida’s climate. Who is responsible for that waste of taxpayer funding?

  6. Avatar

    Rbruce

    May 15, 2024at5:23 pm

    Name one business that will benefit from less vehicle traffic? What method brings more business, cars coming and going during 100% of open times or a partially filled business that stops by every 30 minutes with customers that can only buy enough that they can carry?

  7. Avatar

    Patrick Mundus

    May 15, 2024at4:59 pm

    I live in south St. Pete, use 34th Street often, and support this project. The speed limit reduction and pedestrian improvements are important for the district. We should be using more of the ROW for pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit improvements. If it slows down auto traffic, that is an added benefit.

  8. Avatar

    Rbruce

    May 15, 2024at4:57 pm

    It’s all about the money. Taxpayers from outside the state are being forced to pay this boondoggle. Big chunk of the money is being taken by locals favorable to the powers to be. There is no logical reason to dedicate a lane of traffic that is used about 10% of the time.

  9. Avatar

    Jill Benford

    May 15, 2024at3:36 pm

    While this is certainly better than earlier proposals for a skyride, the money spent on widening an already wide sidewalk will NOT increase pedestrian traffic, adding significant shade trees and walkable restaurants and shopping will. We already have the Pinellas Trail through this area so no we don’t need another unused walking path. I believe that I saw plans for bushes, etc., please, just no, this detracts women from using walking paths.
    Whoever mentioned the echo chamber, I would agree. If we are citing the numbers on the east-west line as proof, have the numbers held up now that there is a rate associated with a ride? The ridership numbers I saw were from the early “free” trial period. With the number of living units being added along the corridor, there seems to be no believable anticipatory impact shared with the public. Was there a model considered where the bus pull offs were built into the easements that are at least 20-30feet wide right now? Could this be done without taking away two driving lanes? I’d like to see why they don’t think it could be accomplished without removing lanes. I’ve not ridden it, and with it heading south to where I live, I might. So, I’m not against it but it does seem the process has not been well circulated with those most impacted.

  10. Avatar

    Andy N

    May 15, 2024at2:53 pm

    The Bum Runner is a failure, let’s make more of it says the PSTA, what could go wrong?

  11. Avatar

    Mike

    May 15, 2024at12:45 pm

    Explain why anyone thinks more busses equals less cars! Explain why anyone thinks more busses equals less traffic! Explain why anyone thinks more busses equals a better environment! Or better parking! There is NO WAY these projects reduce traffic. NONE.

    The central avenue corridor has been destroyed by these people. [Segment moderated]

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! More busses equal more busses. Period.

  12. Avatar

    Pedro V.

    May 15, 2024at11:51 am

    This is a great start. I wished this service would go in the north (north of Central Avenue to be exact. I drive on that road almost every week and it tends to be very congested. This project won’t go too far north but it’s a start to show that less lanes improves traffic especially with a great alternative mode.

  13. Avatar

    Kari

    May 15, 2024at8:33 am

    This is great news! I was informed about it, read through the information and submitted an email in support. We need to support more bike and pedestrian accessibility and more transit options. It means LESS cars on the road, less confection, less parking problems. We’re going to need it because people will keep moving here and bringing their cars. Please support more alternative transportation options besides cars.

  14. Avatar

    Jacob S.

    May 15, 2024at8:09 am

    I live in this Marina District and travel 34th daily. Congestion is horrible, and getting worse by the day. Current apartments complexes are nearing completion and another 2,200 units at Ceridian will only make things worse. Adding a dedicated bus lane will certainly not improve matters. As commented above, travel where this is currently implemented and see how it is. Terrible. I must have missed the opportunity for public comment??

  15. Avatar

    James Blackman

    May 15, 2024at7:05 am

    US-19 is my most used thoroughfare from 54th Ave S to Clearwaters Drew Street. As a resident and driver I am in full support of this project and hope they use it to improve the crossings at 22nd, 26th, 30th, and 38th Ave S. Sure the construction will be annoying, but just like the sidewalk widening projects, I think that it will be worth it. However, I am very upset that they won’t paint the lanes.

  16. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    May 15, 2024at5:43 am

    Educating the public is as important part of getting valid public input.

    I am part of the long list of people who have anecdotal experience contrary to “the study”. Perhaps providing links to these studies, especially the ones that looked at DTSP would help us all get on board.

  17. Avatar

    Kelly

    May 14, 2024at9:21 pm

    They’re not doing a good job of getting input from people who live and work down here. If they want our input they need to reach out. They’re really just hearing the same voices bouncing around an echo chamber. Taking away a lane while adding THOUSANDS of new residents and vehicles to the road will make traffic worse and make drivers more stressed. Ask anyone who travels on 1st Ave s or n.

  18. Avatar

    Velva Heraty

    May 14, 2024at8:51 pm

    34th Street is high risk. The safer and more efficiently people can move around the area without auto congestion, the better.

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