St. Petersburg’s MLK Street corridor resurfacing and bike lane plan goes to committee next week

Why don't we do it in the road?

click to enlarge The city hopes to appease both residents and business owners with the amended approach to the MLK corridor. - Arielle Stevenson
Arielle Stevenson
The city hopes to appease both residents and business owners with the amended approach to the MLK corridor.

The hot mess of how to handle the resurfacing of St. Petersburg’s Martin Luther King Jr. Street may finally come to conclusion. It’s been one hell of an equation for the city, residents and business owners to solve over the last few months.

On Wednesday, the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) hosted a presentation by the city for residents on the MLK, or “ML-King Street,” resurfacing project.

In the latest edition: Dedicated continuous bike lanes in both directions, a dedicated center turn lane, and a lane elimination at certain points in either direction. The intended result is increased pedestrian and cyclist safety, decreased overall traffic speed and hopefully fewer accidents as a result. All in all, the goal is slower traffic, more safety for everyone (no matter their mode of transit) and a road meant to connect the neighborhood to downtown.

Easy-peasy, right? “Dr. Ed” Carlson, of Jungle Terrace, was there to voice opposition for the plan. An avid cyclist, Carlson called the proposal for expanded bike lanes a “pipe dream,” citing how few cyclists he saw on the roads during his own rides. “The people haven’t had a chance to make their voices heard!”

Many in the room shouted or booed Carlson’s comments. Public outreach by the city on the project started officially last November; as Euclid/St. Paul resident and writer Lynn Waddell noted, the community came to the table with the idea to expand pedestrian lanes on the MLK St. corridor first.

“This came from the neighborhoods,” Waddell said Wednesday.

The road was already due for resurfacing, so the community asked the city to consider expanding bike lanes. The city says they combined the projects to save money, not deceive. The process has been going on a little over a year; two postponements later, the city is reviewing the comprehensive plan proposal next week.

On a stretch of road just 1.75 miles long, running from 4th Ave. N., to 34th Ave. N., speeding continues to be a problem. Research shows that 34 percent of drivers on MLK are going roughly 10 miles over the speed limit on a daily basis. I drive a little old sports car, and I know the thrill I get coming down that empty road, barreling toward home along five wide and usually empty lanes. That’s a rarity in Pinellas County anymore. It’s also pretty dangerous for the increased density of downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods. The city hopes to change that with a proposed resurfacing plan for the corridor.

Evan Mory, director of transportation for the city, says they moved to the “Complete Streets” plan in 2015 under Mayor Rick Kriseman. The idea of Complete Streets is to have the MLK corridor function as a city connector, to link certain types of streets to contact zones and fit into the entire scheme of things.

Yes, it’ll be one lane along certain segments, both northbound and southbound. This allows for the bike lanes and buffer zones, a safety feature for cyclists and drivers alike. A shared bike lane and right turn lane would go from 22nd Avenue North southbound to 5th Avenue North. Either the north or southbound lane will retain two lanes. Northbound travelers will have one lane from 4th Avenue North until 10th, due to the decreased northbound traffic in that segment.

In the course of this project, the city found that more than 40 percent of accidents on MLK happen along 20 percent of the corridor... guess which segment that falls in? Yep — the death trap between 5th and 9th Avenues. In the last three years, 108 accidents occurred along MLK; 10 percent involved pedestrians, cyclists or motorists. Nearly half the accidents occurred in that 5th-to-9th segment alone.

Research shows most cyclists use the sidewalks for travel; as a resident of said neighborhood, I concur. Do you trust drivers along MLK to allow a bicycle safe passage along the shoulder? After 10 years riding bikes in this town, I certainly don’t. Riding on the sidewalk provides no guarantees, either — statistically, sidewalk cyclists are at greater risk (and pose greater risk themselves) than those riding in the road.

For the 10,700 neighboring residents, the new lanes would add to the 130 miles of bike lanes throughout the city. The project would add additional crosswalks as well, improving upon the single dedicated crosswalk currently at 17th Avenue North. “Fourth Street-style crosswalks,” the kind broken into two parts, would be installed at 28th, 26th, 19th, 15th and 12th Avenues.

Studies show the road should be within 20-30 miles per hour, but Mory admits it’ll likely never get lower than 30 miles per hour; this resurfacing project gradually works towards that goal. The cost will be around $1 million, with what Mory says will be “slight increase” between the simple resurfacing and implementing the bike lane project. But the impact economically and in terms of public safety could be huge.

Overall, the project would add an estimated 1.4 minutes to the commute through that area. But, as Mory points out, “slower cars notice more business.” City Council votes on the proposal Thursday, August 23. If approved, construction could begin before the end of August.

View the city’s presentation on the proposed plan here.

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