Greenlight Pinellas looks like it will really screw up Fourth Street

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This week, the Yes for Greenlight initiative sent out a campaign email that, quite frankly, should frighten anyone who cares about the future of Fourth Street North in St. Petersburg.

Under the header, “Did You Know? Bus Rapid Transit will help the Pinellas bus system move faster, but it won’t take existing lanes from other vehicles,” there is a rendering of what Fourth Street (at approximately 11th North) might look like if the Greenlight Pinellas plan is implemented.

The email, written by Joe Farrell –Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s man in Pinellas — states that:

The Greenlight Pinellas plan calls for a number of improvements that fall into the concept of Bus Rapid Transit. In some places, the system will use mini-lanes at intersections to allow buses to jump ahead of cars when traffic lights change. BRT may also involve such concepts as using smart cards to make boarding faster.

But what BRT won’t do is take existing lanes from other vehicles. Except for on two lightly traveled thoroughfares – 1st Avenue N and 1st Avenue S in St. Petersburg – the mini-lanes at intersections and bus stops will be created from medians and shoulders of the county’s highways.

For Farrell’s sake, let’s hope this email was not sent to the Tampa Bay Times, because it’s not likely the preceding two paragraphs would get past the fact-checkers at PolitiFact.

Here is that rendering of Fourth Street North under the GLP plan:

greenlight pinellas - 4th Street1

What do you notice?

That’s right, Fourth Street North as it is now with its two northbound lanes, two south bound lanes, center turning lane, and attractive medians has been transformed into a six-lane road – four lanes for cars and two lanes for rapid transit buses.

Here, take a look at what Fourth Street North basically looks like now.

greenlight pinellas - 4th Street2

What’s important in this image is what’s not there: Fourth Street North being turned into a six-lane highway for stretches at a time.

In many ways, Fourth Street North is one of the two or three most important thoroughfares in St. Petersburg. It’s a commercial corridor, yes, but it’s also a border to some of the best neighborhoods in northeast St. Petersburg.

What Greenlight Pinellas will do is put six-lane stretches right next to Old Northeast, Crescent Lake, and Crescent Heights.

What Greenlight Pinellas will do is bring a dramatic increase in traffic to north Pinellas.

What Greenlight Pinellas will do is turn Fourth Street North into another Park Boulevard.

Meanwhile, for the cars traveling on Fourth Street North, good luck trying to turn left into any of the small businesses and restaurants that are the heart of Fourth Street North above 22nd Avenue. Because what you don’t see in the Greenlight Pinellas rending is a center lane for turning.

Imagine this scenario … You’ve just come from Shore Acres or Snell Isle or Northeast Park or Venetian Isles and you turn right onto Fourth Street. You’re headed north, on your way to Bonefish Grill at 50th Avenue. Your mouth is watering for some Bang Bang Shrimp, only you can’t turn left into the shopping center where Bonefish is located because traffic is inordinately dense. While you wait to turn left, traffic backs up for a good six blocks because, with you stopped, there’s only one northbound lane available.

After you get fed up being honked at and flicked-off, you try to turn left but one of those freakin’ rapid transit buses blocks your path …

Don’t worry, I have a headache, too.

Understand, GLP’s vision for Fourth Street North is built on a lie.

In Farrell’s email, he writes that Bus Rapid Transit “won’t … take existing lanes from other vehicles.” Huh?

Right now, there are five lanes for car traffic – two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes, and a center lane for turning. In the GLP rendering, there are only four lanes because the center lane has been removed.

Those center lanes and medians — which are designed to relieve traffic congestion — disappear in the Greenlight Plan, making way for “mini-lanes” for buses to jump ahead of cars when traffic lights change.

Now, I am not an engineer but buses are rather large items. One would not typically associate the word “mini” with “buses.”

As PSTA critic Tom Rask notes in his disassembling of Farrell’s email, the term “mini-lane” is not used once in PSTA’s 101-page Community Bus Plan. Therefore, we must rely on Farrell’s explanation of mini-lanes to understand what they are.

Farrell states that there will be “mini-lanes at intersections to allow buses to jump ahead of cars when traffic lights change.” But in the very next paragraph, he talks about the “the mini-lanes at intersections and bus stops.”

So, which is it: mini-lanes at intersections …. or at intersections and bus stops?

Either way, the impact these mini-buses, like the entire Greenlight Pinellas plan in general, will have on Fourth Street is really too much to bear.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.