Following in the footsteps of cities across the nation, St. Pete will close a portion of Bayshore Drive NE, which runs along Tampa Bay, between 5th Avenue and 2nd Avenue, to vehicular traffic until further notice.
From Tampa to Minneapolis, to Oakland, cities are embracing outdoor space – and giving it back to people instead of vehicles. Tampa has closed major stretches of roads to cars, to allow for more outdoor seating capacity for restaurants and more socially-distanced walking space for pedestrians. The city is also in discussions to close its Bayshore Boulevard to traffic once a month.
St. Pete has been slowly considering retaking vehicular space for pedestrians. The city spent two weeks surveying business owners about utilizing on-street parking for outdoor seating, while allowing temporary permits for restaurants to use their privately-owned parking lots or adjacent green spaces. Eventually, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced that the city would allow on-street parking to be used for seating, but did not choose to close any associated streets to traffic.
St. Pete’s move to close Bayshore is a change of heart from one week ago, when Kriseman’s communications director Ben Kirby told the St. Pete Catalyst, “There are no immediate plans to close down streets for pedestrian or cycling use during this public health crisis. We are fortunate in St. Pete, even as an urban city, to have an abundance of places to walk, jog, and ride.”
“Mayor Kriseman has indicated, however, that he would like to test out the idea during some future weekends,” Kirby explained, “when gatherings are less of a concern and when restaurants and retailers can receive plenty of notice and participate in making such weekends a success.”
The city gave notice Thursday that it would close the three-block section of Bayshore to vehicular traffic beginning Friday, May 22 at 8 a.m.
“Beyond our Open Streets events, we have been looking at opportunities to experiment with road closures and create more space for those walking, biking, and exercising,” Kriseman said in a release. “While this is a small stretch of road, it is heavily used and should give residents and visitors the chance to further spread out. I am hopeful it will be used wisely.”
City Council Vice Chair Gina Driscoll also expressed her approval of the changes in a statement. “This is an exciting opportunity to help foster more enjoyment of our downtown waterfront while allowing for easier social distancing,” Driscoll said. “This closure should help to inform future actions related to opening our streets for alternative uses.”
Closing streets to cars and opening them to pedestrians has been an urban theme of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Oakland Slow Streets” transformed a full 10 percent of that city’s streets into pedestrian and bicycle only, following city-approved and previously established neighborhood bike routes. The streets still allow slow local traffic and emergency vehicles, but no through traffic. Denver, Minneapolis, Montreal, Portland and Winnipeg have also followed suit.