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Bike lane project stalls in St. Pete after complaints from business owners

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A battle over bike lanes is flaring tempers in St. Petersburg.

Residents of the Crescent Heights, Euclid and Woodlawn Oaks neighborhoods contacted ABC Action News' Driving Tampa Bay Forward tip line to ask us to look into a stalled plan to add bicycle lanes along Martin Luther King Street North.

The families tell ABC Action News they’re terrified to walk or bike across the street which is where more than 18,000 cars traverse daily. 

Yet, a project to add crosswalks and bike lanes is now on hold as businesses hand out flyers saying the plan could force them to shut their doors. 

“I don’t understand. I don’t understand it," Matthew Sardo said in disbelief.

The father of three lives just off Martin Luther King Jr. St. N and says he is baffled that businesses would be opposed to a plan that could save lives.

“Opposing a plan like this, that will bring more people out and keep us all safe, it just doesn’t make sense," he said. 

Sardo has worked for years to convince St. Pete leaders to add crosswalks and bike lanes along MLK. The street has been the site of 108 crashes in just the past three years.

“I just need the city to get something done so it’s safe for us to walk across the street," he said while holding his 3-month-old daughter in his arms. 

St. Pete wants to add an 8-foot wide bike lane along Martin Luther King Jr. St. from Fifth Avenue North to 34th Avenue North. The plan would eliminate one lane of traffic on the 5-lane street and slow down the speed limit, which the city estimates would add an estimated 90 seconds to drivers' commutes.

Yet business owners like Dale Nichols insist the project is: “Crazy. Stupid and crazy,” Nichols explained.

Nichols argues having fewer lanes will drive customers away and make it impossible for delivery trucks to get into their mom and pop shops. 

“We’d lose a lot of business," he added. Nichols has owned the Flamingo Sports Bar since 1969, although the bar has been open since 1924.

He fears slowing down traffic on MLK/9th Street will force their customers to the nearby 4th street.

"I don't think the city thought all of the details through," Nichols added.

Sardo and his neighbors are fighting back. They plan to send a message to the businesses which are opposed to the new bike lanes by boycotting them. 

“We can’t patronize you if we can’t get to you," Tom Novak, who also lives just off Martin Luther King/9th Street explained.

St. Pete leaders tell ABC Action News the bike lanes are on hold until they can get a resolution between neighbors and business owner — and that it could take several weeks. Evan Mory in St. Pete's Transportation Department says they hope to have a final direction for the project in August. 

If the plan goes through, St. Pete will remove one lane from either the North or Southbound streets, but assure business owners that no portion will be reduced to just one lane in both directions.

Northbound traffic would be narrowed to one lane from Fourth to 10th Avenue N. Drivers heading South would have one lane between 30th and 9th Avenue North, South of there would turn back into two lanes. 

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