By Christina Mendoza, AICP
As one of Florida’s most unique and vibrant communities, demand for office, housing and services in downtown St. Petersburg, or DTSP, continues to grow. At the same time, people are looking for more ways to travel in and around the community in a safe and efficient manner. Therefore, now more than ever, it’s critical to understand the ways in which the transportation network can help meet the area’s growing needs for improved access, connectivity, and mobility.
Forward Pinellas, the City of St. Petersburg, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) worked together on an analysis of the Downtown St. Petersburg transportation network as part of the Downtown St. Petersburg (DTSP) Mobility Study. The purpose of the mobility study is to understand the context and vision for multimodal mobility in DTSP, conduct conceptual planning and evaluation of multimodal improvement options, and prioritize short- and long-term projects. The study focused on defining and evaluating improvement projects that affect the overall transportation network in DTSP, including potential projects that affect roadway capacity, operations, safety, and connectivity for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers, as well as accessibility to hospitals and travel times for emergency responders.
The intent of the study is to identify and evaluate project concepts and improvements to the transportation network, including two-way street conversions, redesign or removal of the interstate spurs, transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements, and other safety and mobility enhancements. The study officially launched in early 2020 and is wrapping up this month with some project priorities for consideration.
Key Project Priorities
To accomplish the goals and achieve the mobility vision established as part of this study, an Action Plan defines a series of recommended projects, studies, and programs that the City of St. Petersburg, Forward Pinellas, FDOT, or other partner agencies should take to create a more reliable, inclusive, and efficient transportation system. The projects were organized into two tiers or priorities: Priority One Projects are those that should be advanced in the next 14 years, and Priority Two Projects are those that should advance once implementation of the Priority One Projects is completed. For the Priority One Projects, the specific actions are organized into short-term (1-3 years), mid-term (4-6 years), and long-term (7-14 years) actions. Actions related to Priority Two Projects are anticipated to occur later (15+ years). Together, the recommended actions from this study are designed to propel the City’s goal of enhancing DTSP as a vibrant, unique, and walkable place where residents and visitors enjoy spending their time and money.
DTSP Study Priority One Projects
The following studies, projects, strategies, or plans should be advanced as the top priorities:
Two-way conversion and lane reallocation of 3rd/4th St and 8th/Dr. MLK Jr. St
What is it?
This is a project to convert 3rd/4th St and 8th/Dr. MLK Jr. St. to two-way streets within DTSP, as well as incorporate continuous bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the corridor.
Additional studies and public outreach are needed in the short-term for the engineering and design of both projects to determine how the new two-way streets will operate, and how space will be allocated to through travel and turning lanes, bicycling, walking and parking. The City is currently exploring funding opportunities for these projects in order to advance them to the next phase.
Studies to better understand the feasibility and impacts of modifications or removal of I-175 and develop conceptual design alternatives
What is it?
These projects are studies to further understand opportunities to advance conceptual design, develop a redevelopment strategy, and better understand how to potentially modify I-175 and change access from I-275. A series of short-, mid and long-term actions would be needed to further develop the project concept. All studies are envisioned to include significant public outreach and engagement efforts.
Key short-term actions include the development of an interstate spur engineering and concept development study to evaluate engineering options for the modification or removal of I-175. FDOT has already developed a scope of services for this project and has selected a consultant to evaluate three alternatives: no change scenario, removal of the interstate spur, and modification to the interstate spur. They will be evaluating the engineering feasibility of these alternatives to determine if there are any fatal flaws with them. Once analyzed, they will take them back to the public to determine which alternatives have public support.
Another short-term action includes the development of an I-175 Redevelopment and Reconnecting Communities Strategy, where the City and Forward Pinellas undertakes an inclusive land use, urban design, equity, and transportation study to evaluate options for I-175, 4th Ave S, and 5th Ave S corridors. This will be a community driven effort to evaluate desires and determine next steps. The City and Forward Pinellas are currently exploring funding opportunities for this project, including potentially applying for the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, which is a competitive federal grant under the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law meant to reconnect communities through the removal, modification, or mitigation of barriers such as transportation facilities that separate communities and impact mobility and accessibility.
Other projects related to transit improvements, advanced technologies, and traffic signal prioritization, and safety related projects
What is it?
Projects designed to improve DTSP mobility, safety, and accessibility to hospitals and other key destinations within downtown.
Key short-term actions include a traffic signal priority analysis to look at ways to maintain or improve travel times in downtown and access to hospitals, to address concerns expressed by emergency response personnel and hospital staff. Other short-term actions include safety studies to evaluate safety and operational issues at the I-275 at 5th Ave N interchange and ramps along I-375. The City is currently exploring funding opportunities for these projects in order to advance them to the next phase.
DTSP Study Priority Two Projects
I-375 Corridor Modification Projects
What is it?
At a lower priority, more detailed studies and analysis to advance conceptual design, prepare a redevelopment strategy, and better understand feasibility and impacts of modifications or removal of I-375 should be evaluated further in the future.
Additional study or analysis may be needed prior to advancement to understand current needs and conditions since these projects are anticipated for longer-term implementation (15+ years).
Moving Toward Implementation…Together
This study was an initial high-level look at the downtown network to assess the feasibility of these various transportation modifications. It was developed in close collaboration with the public, with four broad phases of outreach throughout the process. The first round of outreach was used to gather input to develop a set of project scenarios that were tested and then presented to the public. Additional feedback was gathered on the scenarios, and they were refined further. The scenarios were then broken down into five project concepts. The team gathered input and feedback on the concepts from the public to formulate the recommendations. In total, there were more than 10 community conversations, more than 1000 comment board views, nine listening sessions, four surveys, and over 1000 survey responses. Overall, the public was in favor of the two-way conversion/lane-reallocation projects and the modifications to I-175. However, the DTSP Mobility Study identifies project concepts that are very much at a planning level. Moving forward, funding will need to be to be identified for each of these projects, and further study is needed to determine next steps, and the public will be involved throughout the process. If you are interested in getting involved, please visit our project website at www.forwardpinellas.org/dtsp for more information.