Editor’s note: As 2015 winds down, SPB is taking a look back at the year’s news in St. Pete and assembled a list of the top 10 most interesting developments. Whether the news evoked outrage in the community, excitement or even heartbreak, these are the top headlines of the past year.
No. 9 – Transportation
The year 2015 started off with many St. Petersburg residents still disappointed that a Pinellas county transit referendum failed. It would have led to a more robust public transportation system. The one-penny sales tax increase proposed in the Greenlight Pinellas plan was overwhelmingly crushed at the ballot box. In just St. Pete, though, the plan was actually quite popular.
After that searing loss, city officials began considering other ways to boost transportation options in St. Pete, without a countywide referendum where more conservative north county voters have the power to squash momentum.
Proposals surfacing this past year included a restructured downtown bus grid. This past month officials said Williams Park would no longer be the area’s bus transfer hub. Instead, beginning in February, bus stops will be scattered through downtown.
The move not only cleans up Williams Park by removing excess bus-user traffic, which has made the park a popular place for drug dealing. It also provides better options for transit users looking to commute in and out of downtown on a bus.
Instead of all bus traffic flowing in and out of downtown along First Avenues North and South, the routes will come in from various avenues and streets and stop at more than just one destination.
Late in 2015, the city also implemented the Park Once program. That allows visitors to come into downtown in a car, park in one of the downtown parking garages, and then take a free shuttle to their destination. The move was geared toward reducing parking issues within the city.
The pilot program runs only on weekends.
The most conversation about St. Pete transit involved loftier projects. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority failed in 2015 to get state funding for Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit. For the 2016 Session, that $1 million funding request is the agency’s top priority.
Even though the request isn’t guaranteed to be approved, the PSTA is moving forward with the early phases of the project. The agency said in December that a $500,000 grant will allow it to get the ball rolling on the new route.
Central Avenue BRT would build on a route that runs between downtown St. Pete and the beaches. The current Central Avenue Beach trolley takes too long to get from start to finish and is more appropriately used for short trips. The BRT route, though, would allow tourists at the beach to visit downtown quickly and easily.
The city also is implementing a water ferry that would shuttle residents and visitors between downtown St. Pete and Tampa. While the project has been on St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s radar all year, St. Pete City Council approved $350,000 from the $6.5 million awarded through the BP oil spill settlement to get the project moving.
If fully funded, the ferry service would run during winter months by leasing water ferries on hiatus in the bitter cold Northeast.
This move is particularly attractive to St. Pete officials because it could be an incentive for the Tampa Bay Rays to stay in St. Pete. The Major League Baseball team has had poor attendance at home games for more than a decade.
Many think that better transportation options for fans commuting from Tampa could increase attendance.
Another popular alternative transportation initiative that’s gaining momentum in St. Pete is a bike-share program. Kriseman has asked City Council to set aside $1 million from the BP money to get that running. However, amid concerns about city wastewater infrastructure, council has postponed voting on it.
The city would also have to find how to fund the other $1 million of the project that wouldn’t be covered by BP funds.
Similar to Park Once, the idea for bike share is to give visitors a way to get around downtown without using their cars.