Big changes could be coming to more than a dozen St Pete streets. The city hopes by adding bike lanes, decreasing driving lanes and reducing some speed limits, it will cut down on the number of walkers and bikers getting hit by cars.
Tuesday afternoon St. Pete crews started building five new crosswalks along Martin Luther King Street N. It's the same street where the city eliminated one lane of traffic and added a wide bike lane.
John Juist is happy about the changes he's seen. He's learned to hug the curb when he rides along MLK in his electric scooter. “The cars zoom past me. Sometimes I just see streaks," he exclaimed.
Juist has had a couple close calls on his electric scooter, but he says trucking along MLK is now a breeze with new, wider bike lanes. “It's faster, safer and easier!" he said.
St. Pete leaders are using the busy corridor to try something new: Taking away a lane of car traffic to make way for bikers and walkers.
The city transportation leaders are certain the changes will drastically reduce the number of pedestrians getting hit.
Yet, not everyone welcomes the changes. Dale Nichols says with fewer lanes, traffic often backs up, which pushes drivers to find new routes away from his bar.
“People just zoom on by because there is no place to turn in,” he explained. He believes many of his potential customers, and those for Hook's Seafood Restaurant next door, are using nearby 4th Street as an alternative.
“I’ve been here 49 years. I’ve had a successful business for 49 years. These changes are just terrible,” Nichols added while looking at the traffic backing up outside his Flamingo Sport's Bar.
City leaders say while the changes can create tension, they had to be made to keep everyone safe.
Cheryl Stacks, St. Pete's Transportation Manager, says in several city meetings nearby residents pointed out the danger to city leaders. “What we resoundingly heard was that people don’t feel comfortable crossing the street and they wanted some good crosswalks,” Stacks explained.
Now, St. Pete leaders are looking at similar "Complete Streets" changes along 16 main corridors including 16th Street, 54th Avenue, Park Street, and First Avenue. City leaders held a meeting Tuesday to discuss which streets should move into the planning phases next.
The five new crosswalks along MLK should be finished by Mid-January.
St. Pete leaders will closely study how the changes impact the number of crashes along the corridor.