Complete Streets debate heads to St. Pete City Council

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“A high number of the city’s population does not have the option to use a car.”

The St. Pete City Council will consider this week whether to support the city’s Complete Streets Plan. The city has been working on the plan since late 2015.

Under the proposed implementation plan, the city would establish a guideline for roadway improvements over the next 20 years that focus changes on elements that promote safe walking and biking while also maintaining convenience for drivers.

It would also ensure streets are “designed, operated and maintained so that people of all ages and physical and economic abilities can safely and comfortably move around the city street network.”

The plan, which will ultimately include a map of proposed projects, would “not be considered inflexible nor as written in stone.” It would also be updated every five years to account for project assessments, changing conditions and additional public engagement.

Proposals included in the plan would not be guaranteed and would still be subject to the public outreach process through community meetings and public comment.

The plan is based on the city’s comprehensive plan that “envisions a city with more people choosing to walk, bike, take transit and share trips.”

It includes a road improvement focus on more high quality pedestrian crossings, new bike lanes and trails and local streets with slower speeds

“A high number of the city’s population does not have the option to use a car on a regular basis,” the plan notes.

“The Complete Streets Plan does not attempt to make driving so difficult that people choose to give up their car and succumb to walking, riding a bike, and taking transit. Rather, it seeks to better balance the interests of all roadway users and recognize that the fatality statistics nationally and locally suggests that a great need exists to protect the most vulnerable roadway users.”

Despite the city’s attempt to quell would be skepticism over its plan, some in the city oppose the Complete Streets proposal. The city recently completed a project on portions of Martin Luther King Jr. Street north of downtown that eliminated a lane in some areas and added painted bike lanes.

Residents along the corridor have been largely supportive, according to public comment during previous meetings. But some business owners have complained the changes make it more difficult for motorists to access their businesses. Some commuters have complained the lane loss makes car trips take longer.

A city assessment of travel times in the corridor found the changes accounted for a one minute delay for motorists.

The project led to a new group in St. Pete convened to fight the city’s Complete Streets plans including its long-sought after Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit route, which they oppose because it would eliminate some on-street parking.

Citizens Against Lane and Parking Loss recently protested along MLK Street wearing iconic red shirts and carrying white signs with red lettering advertising the new group. Photos from the group’s protest showed supporters standing in the very bike lanes they opposed.

According to its website, the group wants a voter referendum on Complete Streets. They recommend instead that the city incorporate bike access in neighborhoods rather than busy streets where they can be accommodated without affecting vehicular traffic.

The group calls the initiative a Rick Kriseman “pet project.”

The Complete Streets plan does not include roadway expansion, noting those projects are coordinated by the Florida Department of Transportation, the county and Forward Pinellas, the county’s metropolitan planning organization.

The city expects more than $1 billion to be spent over the next several years for projects adding capacity or reducing traffic congestion, particularly on the interstate.

The plan notes that Complete Streets are “quickly playing a significant role in attracting and retaining businesses.”

“Employers seek to locate in a city that provides mobility options and safe active transportation choices,” the implementation plan reads.

City Council will hear the city’s plan at its meeting Thursday.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


4 comments

  • gary

    April 29, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    I have an idea…. LA tried this nonsense, then they had to develop another plan. One to help people STOP from being RAN over! Anytime we promote people being closer to vehicles, and convincing them that a button at an intersection will magically stop 4000 lbs of metal on wheels, we will see the pedestrian death rate increase dramatically! As I said, research Los Angeles, Vision Zero!

  • James C. Walker

    May 2, 2019 at 10:01 pm

    Taking travel lanes away from cars on busy collectors and arterials that carry the bulk of the commuting and shopping traffic that support commerce is a wrong-headed idea.

    Improving pedestrian crosswalks with better signage and lighting is a GOOD idea. Creating bike lanes on more minor streets roughly parallel to the high volume collectors and arterials is a GOOD idea. Advance pedestrian signals at downtown high pedestrian count intersections allowing pedestrians to start crossing before drivers get green lights is a GOOD idea. Pedestrian demand buttons on major collectors and arterials in areas with low pedestrian counts are a GOOD idea.

    There are many ways to improve safety without choking off critical car traffic.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Tom McCarey

    May 3, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    The Complete Streets Plan is also known as Vision Zero.
    The Vision Zero Initiative seeks to reduce traffic deaths to zero–certainly a worthy goal. However, I looked throughout its web site and couldn’t find anything about how they propose to achieve that goal. Instead, there is a lot of mumbo jumbo along with a few poorly chosen statistics about how safe roads are in Sweden. The lack of specific recommendations combined with the misuse of data leads me to believe that this initiative is no better than a cult trying to get money out of gullible government officials with the promise that, if they pay enough, they’ll get a magic formula to safer streets.

    The statistic they most commonly use is number of traffic deaths per 100,000 residents. The problem with this is that this number is bound to be higher in countries where people drive the most. Considering that commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, you could just as well argue that countries that have totally destroyed their fisheries due to overfishing have superior policies to ones that still have healthy fisheries. However, there are better ways of improving safety than destroying the utility of whatever it is that might be dangerous.

    Only by searching other web sites, including Wikipedia, do we learn Vision Zero’s secret: they make streets safer by slowing traffic down to a crawl. In other words, they greatly reduce the utility of the automobile. We know from various research that slower speeds means lower economic productivity.

    Yet there are better ways of making streets safer without reducing people’s mobility and income. The Vision Zero people brag that, since adopting the policy in 1997, fatality rates in Sweden have dramatically declined. Yet, in that same period, U.S. fatality rates per billion vehicle miles (a better measure than per 100,000 residents) declined by more than a third.

    Far from being some new Swedish discovery, safety has, in fact, been a high priority for traffic engineers ever since the profession began. Fatality rates in the United States fell by 50 percent between 1910 and 1922; another 50 percent by 1939; another 50 percent by 1958; another 50 percent by 1986; another 50 percent by 2008; and 15 percent more since then. There are many reasons for this steady decline, but slowing down traffic isn’t one of them. Instead, the reduction in fatalities is mainly attributable to safer road and automobile designs.

    There are many cases where faster is actually safer. The safest roads in our cities are the interstate freeways (4.1 deaths per billion vehicle miles), followed closely by other freeways (4.7), while the most dangerous are local streets where traffic is slowest (11.3). Despite faster average speeds, one-way streets are safer than two-way, even for pedestrians.

    One of the biggest one-year declines in traffic fatalities in American history was in 2008, when fatalities fell by 10 percent. One of the most important factors in this decline was the 1.9 percent decline in driving due to the recession. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, this resulted in 10 percent fewer hours of congested traffic per day and 15 percent less fuel wasted in traffic. Less congestion meant faster traffic speeds and fewer fatalities. (The other big declines were in 1932 and 1942 for similar reasons: less driving, less congestion, faster speeds, fewer fatalities.)

    Contrary to the hoopla, even slowing down cars is not going to reduce traffic deaths to zero unless, of course, cities reduce speed limits to zero. But the real point of the “Vision Zero” name is not to set a realistic goal but to silence potential opponents: “If you are not for Vision Zero, you must want to see people die in traffic.” While there’s nothing wrong with seeking to make roads safer, there is something wrong with following a cult that treats its prescription as a religious dogma and demonizes anyone who disagrees.

    Despite the questionable assumptions, the Vision Zero cult has attracted a lot of followers. Portland has joined, of course. So has Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington. Officials in many of these cities spout off about the zero-fatality goal without mentioning that this goal is unattainable and the real effect of their policies will be to reduce people’s mobility.

    Let’s make roads safer. But let’s do it cost-effectively in a way that doesn’t reduce mobility.
    Sincerely,
    Tom McCarey Member, National Motorists association

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