The Pinellas beaches, the Gateway/Mid-County area, and the US 19 corridor reflect different aspects of Pinellas County, but all have a few things in common. First, they share in driving the Pinellas County economy and serve essential regional economic functions. They are multi-jurisdictional areas with unique local challenges and preferences. Transportation is a critical aspect of each one, and its evolution, along with a strengthened relationship to land use and redevelopment, will shape the future of our economy, our communities and the region. That matters to everyone.
That strategic importance has drawn the focus of the Pinellas Planning Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization, which met in two policy forums on September 21st and December 4th to set a strategic agenda for the next two years. At its regular meeting in December, the Board selected a Vision for the US 19 Corridor, Enhancing Beach Community Access and a Master Plan for the Gateway/Mid-County Area. The PPC/MPO will be working with business and industry stakeholders, community interests, local governments and various public agencies to make significant progress on those three “emphasis areas.”
That means convening partners to make decisions to advance policies, programs, actions and financial commitments that will improve safety, mobility, access and support desired redevelopment to help each area function better in their respective roles.
For US 19, it’s figuring out the impact of an elevated controlled access expressway on the types of development that will occur in the corridor, and how to make it sync with both existing and emerging transportation options. South of Gandy, what should change to support redevelopment and multimodal access objectives? From Pasco County to the Skyway Bridge, how do public projects and policies best enable economic opportunity and ensure cost-effective transportation projects that serve local and regional needs?
Along our iconic beach communities, the issues around our transportation system are safety, congestion in an ever-spreading peak season, neighborhood impacts of tourism growth and regional access. What role can redevelopment play in the area’s economic value and helping people get to and around the beach communities? How do our transportation facilities and services evolve to meet the needs of residents, businesses and visitors, connecting the beaches with downtowns and other destinations around our region? Ferries/ water taxis, new forms of transit, travel choices apps, bicycling and walking, and better information need consideration.
In the Gateway/Mid-County area, regional and community balance is essential. A master plan will help focus priority infrastructure, programs and policies to support high wage economic growth in target industries and locations. It will focus on the future role and function of regional transit. A key part of the equation is improving access between neighborhoods, employment areas and retail/commercial destinations. It means guiding new development in ways that support travel choices, so new apartment residents in the Gateway don’t have to put their bikes on their cars to go ride them. It will also help connect residents and workers throughout the region to jobs, parks and commercial destinations.
It’s been said that if you don’t know to which port you are sailing no wind is favorable. The Board’s designation of the three emphasis areas shows keen insight in determining that strategic direction for Pinellas County. Committing to these initiatives and keeping a focus on results will define our success.
Emphasis Area Work Plans
In that spirit, we will be inviting partners to shape the work plans and ideas for the three emphasis areas. We will review existing plans, develop new concepts and understand the operational, process or financial challenges that we need to overcome to get positive results. We will develop a specific game plan, achievable milestones and clearly define roles/responsibilities for meeting those expectations. Each emphasis area will go at its own pace, but will follow a similar structure:
- Imagine – Define the problem and desired outcome(s); develop a working vision and hypothesis; ask “what if;” connect the dots for who should be involved and why; and convene partners, identify roles and give them a map for successful outcomes.
- Explore & Discover – What’s the history and what’s happening now? What trends and conditions influence the future? What is possible to achieve and what strategies are needed?
- Test – Does it address the problem? Is it effective? Is there community support? What are the financial implications?
- Set the Course – Confirm the vision and determine which measures and milestones to establish; develop the action plan for the short-term and long-term; and define roles and responsibilities.
- Understand – Document the strategic plan, time frame and actions, and tell the story to key groups and the public.
As we move forward, we need to evaluate the effectiveness and outcomes of our plans. In choosing these emphasis areas, we will define performance measures that we can track over time. At the conclusion of the two-year focus, we will convene a summit to share findings and successes, recognize contributions, and thank our partners for their commitments to improving the three emphasis areas.
We need a fresh conversation about how we continue to advance as a county with 24 cities in one of the most dynamic regions in the country. With the unification of the Pinellas Planning Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization now at its one-year mark, the 13 governing board members are taking a leadership role in moving Pinellas County and our region forward with tangible actions.