Wondering what all the buzz is about in St. Petersburg regarding Complete Streets and resurfacing Martin Luther King, Jr. Street (MLK)? Complete Streets, as a concept, has been a part of conversations in the city’s transportation sphere for years now and the philosophy behind Complete Streets has benefitted numerous projects along the way. The first major venture to officially come under the fully-fledged Complete Streets policy is the resurfacing of MLK––an opportunity to enhance a maintenance project already on the books by improving the roadway for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Complete Streets in action.
Those who are familiar with traveling around east St. Petersburg, by car or bicycle, know that options are limited when traveling north and south. Fourth St. is a major conduit for vehicular traffic but is difficult to traverse by bicycle due to fast speeds and high volume of traffic. Complete Streets doesn’t state every street needs to host every mode equally: instead, its policies help the city evaluate which streets are best for prioritizing car traffic and which are more ideal for bicyclist and pedestrian traffic, with a goal of completing a network of streets that enables all modes to get around effectively. MLK runs parallel to Fourth St. but hosts fewer cars and has slower posted traffic speeds, particularly in the business district just north of downtown, making it an ideal choice for bicycles.
After extensive traffic studies, the city determined that removing one car lane to accommodate much needed on-street bicycle facilities was not going to significantly impact drivers or parking. Amidst the many bicyclists, advocacy organizations, and other residents who were emphatically in favor of adding bicycle facilities, there were also business owners concerned that the changes could negatively impact business.
Build it and they will come.
This isn’t the first time the city has made significant changes to a roadway in support of bicyclists. St. Petersburg’s most parallel example to MLK is Central Avenue. Like MLK, Central held a long tradition of being car-centric with businesses and residences flanking its edges. The City of St. Petersburg took steps to slow down vehicular speeds on Central, installed traffic-calming devices and bulbouts, worked with Coast Bike Share to strategically place bike share stations, and painted the pavement with sharrows to remind drivers and bicyclists to share the road. And it worked. In the past couple of years following the changes, business on Central has been booming and the urban core is expanding westward, making it a happening place to be. There are also more people riding bicycles.
These results are not unique to St. Petersburg. Studies across the country have shown that making streets bicycle and pedestrian friendly has a positive impact on business. Bicyclists, on average, have been shown to shop more often and spend more money; more frequent trips and staying closer to home means businesses establish regular clienteles. Those traveling slower through business districts, even by car due to lowered speed limits, are able to more easily notice the businesses they are passing and, therefore, are also more likely to make a stop.
“The resurfacing project will transform Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N. into a neighborhood-oriented asset, designed to be friendly to cars, transit, bikes, and pedestrians. It will make traveling along this vibrant corridor safer and provide improved access to MLK’s many fantastic businesses,” said Kerry Bailey, Regional Marketing Manager for CycleHop, LLC, the administrating organization for the Coast Bike Share program. “Since Coast Bike Share’s launch in St. Petersburg, we have been delighted to see the program utilized by locals heavily for day-to-day trips. Of recently surveyed members, 58.9% said they had taken trips on Coast bikes that they wouldn’t have taken without bike share, with 39.2% riding for personal shopping and 32.2% using the system to grab a meal or run an errand during their work day. Bikes mean business. By creating more transportation options and designing streets with everyone in mind, our community will benefit environmentally, economically, and socially.”
City of St. Petersburg officials invited business leaders to discuss their concerns about the proposed roadway amendments directly. Following those discussions, city leaders determined it was ultimately in the best interest of the community to move forward with the roadway reconfiguration project this fall, while addressing business’s concerns where possible. After the project’s completion, be sure to check out MLK businesses as you utilize this very important new addition to the bicycling network.
More info about Complete Streets and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Street project: http://www.stpete.org/transportation/complete_streets.php