Last week, we partnered with the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership to bring you the first of what we hope will be many surveys, about the future of St. Petersburg. We’re calling this series St. Pete 2.0, and its purpose is to explore what lies on the other side of our potential – what will it take to move to the “next level” as a city. Today, we bring you the results.
Transportation is one of the most daunting challenges faced by St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area as a whole. According to a study by the Tampa Bay Times, out of the 30 largest metro areas in the country, Tampa Bay ranks last or next to last in the six ways the federal government measures public transit. According to the Tampa Bay Partnership’s Regional Competitiveness Report, Tampa Bay ranks last among 19 benchmark communities in transit ridership per capita at 11.77, compared to a national average of 46.53.
The proposed Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which is projected to open in 2020-21, could be the first step in connecting our region. The proposed line would connect downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach with specialized, rail-like bus service that would cut the current Central Avenue Trolley time end-to-end from 55 minutes to just 35 minutes.
While the project has broad support from the City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, and area Chambers on both sides, it has met a great deal of controversy among residents of St. Pete Beach, St. Pete Beach City Commission and some businesses.
Our survey went live on July 15 and ran through July 18. It went out in our Daily Spark email twice, and was shared across social media platforms. In all, we received 436 unique responses over two surveys, one for general readers and one for Downtown Partnership members. We gave respondents the option to include their name with their quotes or remain anonymous. As you’ll see below, some quotes are simply attributed to an anonymous respondent.
Our poll of St. Pete Catalyst readers showed that readers were generally supportive for BRT. When asked, “Would you support a BRT system within a half mile of your home or business?” 258 readers responded yes, 160 readers responded no and 15 said they were unsure.
When asked, “Do you think BRT is a good option for moving more people between St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach?” most respondents answered along the same lines as the previous question. 257 readers responded yes, 163 responded no and 13 said they were unsure.
The survey also addressed parking and congestion concerns. We asked, “How often do you experience congestion or struggle to find parking in downtown St. Petersburg or at the beach?” 159 readers responded always, 148 readers responded sometimes, 104 responded rarely, and 22 responded never.
But the most interesting responses came from an open-ended question. “What are other steps should community leaders consider to reduce traffic congestion and parking needs?”
Reader responses came in many forms, but some of the major highlights included: Furthering public transportation infrastructure with more BRT, light rail, Complete Streets initiatives and bike lanes. Some called for smaller mini-buses with rapid routes, more parking garages, changes to parking restrictions and implementation of e-scooters.
Let’s dig into some of the most interesting responses.
Light rail. In 2014, Greenlight Pinellas, a referendum seeking to add a single-cent sales tax to fund a 65 percent expansion in bus service and a light rail system connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater, failed. In all, 62 percent voted against the proposed measure.
In 2019, light rail is still on the minds of many. Thirty-three respondents mentioned light rail as a potential solution to reducing congestion and parking needs. As one respondent so eloquently put it, “Light rail. But you don’t want to hear that, do you?” Another respondent, Cynthia Thomas, stated that she does not believe BRT would be a good solution for moving people from St. Petersburg to the beaches. Instead, she said, “A light rail system would bring the city and area into the future. I do like the idea of a fast transit bus between downtown and the beaches, however not large buses. I think ‘fast transit trolleys’ are more to scale – especially on the beach side.”
Steve Morrison wrote, “Forget about the NIMBYs in St. Pete Beach who consistently oppose progress in any form. Look at the glaring lack of investment in St. Pete Beach versus St. Petersburg during this renaissance. Hint: no renaissance in St. Pete Beach! Faster and higher frequency mass transit options are in everybody’s long-term interests. Go BRT! Go light rail! Go ferry service!”
One respondent recommended a $1.00/gal increase of the gas tax to pay for light rail, and another suggested looking to other examples of light rail service internationally, like in Italy, where dedicated virtual light rail connects Venice Islands and Mestre.
Two respondents even mentioned air gondolas as possible light rail-like alternatives.
More Parking Garages. Respondents on both sides of the BRT issue were interested in more parking opportunities, but for different purposes. In all, 17 responses advocated building more parking garages. Some saw them as a useful tool for getting to rapid public transit, others saw them as an alternative to transit.
“Build a secure parking garage above Grand Central Station at 32nd & Central, keep cars out of downtown altogether. Catch BRT or Central Avenue Trolley to beaches, downtown, ballgames or work,” said one proponent of BRT. “They should build another parking garage in the EDGE district that also allows overnight parking for the incoming residential properties and their guests,” said another.
Another proponent wrote, “Provide remote garages and shuttles to major destinations.” One more proposed garages toward the beaches. “There is lots of empty space on Central Avenue west of 58th Street N. Yes, green space is good; but, building a parking garage should also be considered.”
Those opposed to BRT nonetheless had some very similar ideas, “Build more public garages with a free and frequent shuttle. Allow parking with a loop shuttle from the Trop parking lot on non-game days,” said one respondent. “Additional parking garages. Even on St. Pete Beach. Instead of wasting space with limited capacity parking lots. Build up, smaller foot print.” said respondent Sarah Gold. “Build more parking garages around the Grand Central District area. I sometimes ride the bus to downtown St. Petersburg and most of the time I am the only passenger. So i think the money can be used better somewhere else,” wrote another.
One simply said, “Widen streets. Build Parking Garages.”
Parking Requirement/Zoning Changes. Some BRT proponents called for solutions that would restrict parking downtown or change zoning codes to encouraging alternate transit options besides driving. Ryan Todd wrote, “Allow for a fine-grained mix of uses so that residents don’t have to drive to work, school, and to run errands. We need to return to pre-WWII development patterns to effectively address vehicular congestion, climate change, affordable housing, and social equity.”
Andy Bragg responded, “Reduce downtown parking garage requirements for new construction. Encourage bus, ride share, biking and (with proper regulation) scooter options.”
“More trolleys, park and ride lots into downtown, reduce parking requirements, Complete Streets!” said Scott Bitterli. “Reduce parking minimums for development along high frequency transit corridors to encourage other methods of transportation,” said St. Pete Rising’s Anthony Close.
Complete Streets. The city’s Complete Streets initiative was mentioned eight times. Seven of the eight mentions called for further implementation of Complete Streets in order to increase walkability and bike friendliness. One respondent believes that the city should end Complete Streets, arguing that it increases congestion and diverts cars to other congested roads.
E-Scooters. St. Pete residents are ready for e-scooters. E-scooters were specifically mentioned eight times in the survey, often alongside other alternate forms of transport like bike share.
Look for our next survey with the St. Pete Downtown Partnership next week.