Urban Advisor

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Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States

Transit for All: An Expansion on the Pinellas LPA

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So, Pinellas County is moving forward with its LPA (previously discussed here), recommending light rail transit connecting the downtowns of Clearwater and St. Petersburg through the Gateway area. The LPA also includes a regional connection to Tampa, reaching Westshore (and indirectly Tampa International Airport) and downtown Tampa. The LPA provides a direct connection to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, and connects the major centers of Pinellas, as seen on the map below:

This is a strong start to what will eventually become a regional rail system. For those of you unfamiliar with Tampa Bay geography, Clearwater and St. Petersburg are the other two "central cities" for the Tampa Bay region besides Tampa. Downtown Clearwater is important as it is the seat of county government for Pinellas and is the closest major urban center to the gulf beaches. Downtown St. Petersburg is a large employment center, with major major hospitals, USF-SP and a significant amount of office space, as well as cultural center, with the Dali, MFA, Mahaffey, the Pier (soon to be redeveloped - see my blog post) and a host of other museums, galleries and performance venues. It is also a hub for dining and nightlife for the entire region. Gateway, along with Westshore and downtown Tampa, is a major employment center, and business parks along the planned light rail line such as Carillon, La Entrada and Gateway Centre still have lots of room to grow.

This plan has a great chance to succeed at the polls, where voters will be asked to support the plan by approving a 1-cent sales tax (in exchange for a reduction in property taxes). The changes are better than Hillsborough County's initiative, which did not pass its first vote, as the route has been established, technology chosen, and accurate cost estimates will be known well ahead of a vote in 2013 or 2014. There is also plenty of time for public education and involvement in the final plans. However, where this situation is similar to Hillsborough is that the initial line does not service the entire county, and there are no specific proposals for expansion. In order to insure passage of this COUNTY-WIDE initiative, planners and officials should have some specific plans for future phases of rail transit that will reach other parts of the county, particularly northern Pinellas County. Below is my proposal:

The RED line is the current LPA. The BLUE line serves northern Pinellas along US 19 (the major north-south route) up to Tarpon Springs. The YELLOW line serve western St. Petersburg and connects to downtown Clearwater via Seminole. The LIGHT BLUE line connects southern St. Petersburg to the system. All of these expansions are important to the initial vote and important to the success of rail and redevelopment in the future.

Phase 2 should definitely be the BLUE line to Tarpon Springs. This line would mainly consist of park-and-ride stations for the largely suburban northern Pinellas, where many residents commute to jobs in Gateway, St. Petersburg and Tampa. It would also provide access to major shopping destinations such as Westfiield Countryside and Clearwater Mall, and promote transit oriented developments (TODs) these locations and others. Additionally, it also provides direct access to two SPC locations - Clearwater and Tarpon Springs - to promote education which is very important to the expansion and diversification of the local economy.

Phase 3 should include the simultaneous development of the YELLOW and LIGHT BLUE lines. The YELLOW line provides access to downtown St. Petersburg for residents to the western part of the city on through Seminole, and connects them to Largo and downtown Clearwater. It also provides rail access to Gateway, where many commute, and eventually into Tampa. It can get visitors from downtown St. Petersburg closer to the beaches. It further provides a direct connection to Bay Pines VA (a major employer), as well as promoting major TOD at Central Plaza and Tyrone in St. Petersburg, Bay Pines and Seminole Mall in Seminole, and Largo Mall in Largo.

The LIGHT BLUE line is special to me for its great impact both on the built environment as well as its social impact. The LIGHT BLUE line could be the a great tool for bringing economic prosperity to many communities in south St. Pete by providing residents access to job-rich Gateway and eventually to Tampa. Many resident, limited by lack of (reliable) transportation, may now feel free to pursue the better jobs offered in the aforementioned districts. It would also open south St. Pete to redevelopment. I envision the possibility for major TOD in such locations as 22nd Avenue S/34th Street S and 38th Avenue S/34th Street S (I will discuss these in more detail in a later post).

The PURPLE lines also show future Phases 4 and 5, providing a direct link to downtown Clearwater through downtown Dunedin, which is becoming a destination on its own. There is also a connection to Oldsmar, which is growing as a jobs center for the region.

All of this will create a strong rail network on which to build the Pinellas County and Tampa Bay of the future. Just presenting these on a map as proposed expansions that will be explored in the same fashion as this initial line would significantly increase the chances of approval in 2013 or 2014.

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Walkable City: One Strip Center at a Time

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So I asked my wife the other night, "Would you walk to the grocery store if it was within walking distance, a couple of blocks away?" Her answer: "No! This is your wife you are talking to." Well, I know my wife, and I know her shopping patterns (she generally gets more than she intends to get), and I know walking is just not her thing (unless it is for exercise). However, thinking a little bit further, she is not conditioned to walk to the grocery store, or to the bank, or to the restaurant around the corner. In fact, most of us that grew up in Sunbelt cities and towns just did not have that kind of mindset. Unless your household could not afford a car, you drove everywhere. We didn't even walk to school.

Well, most of our cities have reached a point where the usual suburban retail pattern (strip malls along a major arterial road with seas and ponds of surface parking) has become unsustainable or just unpractical. The land is expensive to assemble, gas prices are high. There is even the thought that online shopping has become more convenient and allows people to avoid the headache of driving, finding a parking space and dealing with crowds. People want experiences. From an urban planning perspective, our cities need to redevelop and build on their tax base. Just as single-family-detached housing has become cost prohibitive or inefficient (see post on the two-family house), so are our strip centers. As we try to transform our cities into more urban environments, encouraging the use of public transit instead of cars and build the tax base through increased density, we can start at the neighborhood level with our local shopping centers.

Most of the local shopping centers are the center of activity for neighborhoods, and would be great places to start with in terms of creating walkable cities. The challenge comes with (re)integrating these centers into their surrounding neighborhoods, providing clear paths of pedestrian access while still accommodating cars, as well as allowing them to add density and mix uses (particularly add residential) to create a more sustainable center (residential will provide some built-in demand for the retail).

So looking around St. Petersburg, I have identified two shopping centers that would be good candidates from redevelopment from strip centers to what I like to call neighborhood centers that surrounding streets can build on: Northeast Shopping Center (4th Street and 38th Avenue N) and Coquina Key Plaza (6th Street and 45th Avenue S)

I imagine these two centers as sort of bookends or major destinations along my planned streetcar system for St. Pete (the subject of another post another day). These are two typical suburban-style, auto centric shopping centers, but with some redesign, they can become walkable centers re-integrated into their surrounding neighborhoods.

Let's look first at the Northeast Shopping Center. This is a prime location near some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. Currently the center is anchored by Publix and Steinmart. However I think that center could support a few higher-end stores. When I think of this part of town, for some reason I think of Manhasset, NY, an upper-income area of northern Long Island just outside of Queens. Well, this area isn't quite that rich, but there is a fair amount of affluence nearby. It might not support the likes of Tiffany & Co., but an Ann Taylor or Coldwater Creek might do quite well in this center. So here is the center in plan view:

And here is a proposed redevelopment in plan view:
This redevelopment involves expansion or reconfiguration of existing buildings as well as some new buildings. The red are existing buildings that have been expanded or slightly reconfigured to allow the residential street from the east to flow all the way through the property. The orange buildings have ground floor retail with office and/or residential above (up to 4 stories). The dark grey is structured parking. The light brown is structured parking with ground floor retail. Overall the redevelopment brings in the opportunity for more retail as well as office and housing, creating a real urban neighborhood center. Also, there are already several streets running through the complex that can easily be extended to integrate the center into the surrounding neighborhoods, making it accessible by foot as well as by car, particularly from the east.

Now on to Coquina Key. This one has the potential to change the view of an entire community. Although on the south side of town, this is near some well-established middle class communities. This center may require a complete rebuild, but a new village center of sorts would work quite well in this neighborhood and draw new interest in an area with great potential. Here is the current center in plan view:

And here is a proposed redevelopment in plan view:

The redevelopment is a total rebuild, moving the retail (red) out toward the exterior of the property along the streets to encourage pedestrian access. It also includes the introduction of multifamily housing (purple) - no more than 4 stories surrounding structured parking (brown). I imagine this housing as a mix of affordable and market rate to appeal to the range of incomes represented in that area. The residential also provides some built-in demand for the retail. Parking for the retail is a mixture of structured parking (brown) in the northwestern quadrant and surface parking (gray) in the southwestern quadrant.

In both cases, we have an integration into the surrounding neighborhood , which is the major goal. These two centers could be models followed by other centers around the city, such as Central Plaza, Tyrone Gardens, Lakeview Shopping Center, Gateway Mall and even Tyrone Square. This will begin to create a much more walkable city and bring additional (re)development to the city. As with our discussion of Tropicana Field, I will definitely revisit these ideas with some 3D models. But until then, we can use places like Winter Park Village in Winter Park, FL or Edgewood in Atlanta as examples of redeveloped strip centers and what these shopping centers in St. Pete could be.

Edgewood in Atlanta, GA

Winter Park Village in Winter Park, FL

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