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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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