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Pinellas Trail to link to vibrant downtown

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published July 18, 2007


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Construction has begun on an extension of the Pinellas Trail that will lead to the heart of downtown, city officials said.

The new St. Petersburg path will continue from where the trail ends at 34th Street S down through First Avenue S to the waterfront.

The 2.1-mile extension will be one of the first urban trails in the country, city officials say, providing for an unusual cocktail of outdoor enthusiasts, theatergoers, office workers and restaurant patrons among downtown's bustling streets.

Yet business leaders are divided over whether the trail will promote downtown as a destination or simply disturb traffic in a growing area where every parking space counts.

A traffic lane on part of First Avenue S will be used for the trail expansion, which could result in fewer parking spots on the side south of the one-way road, said Joe Kubicki, St. Petersburg's transportation and parking director.

"In some cases parking might be reduced quite a bit, or in some cases it might not be reduced at all," he said.

City officials should know exactly how parking will be affected by the end of the month, Kubicki said.

The expansion is part of a countywide effort to extend the trail to 75 miles by 2020. The trail is now 34 miles long, and eight overpasses allow users to travel above traffic at busy intersections.

In north Pinellas, a proposed leg will run parallel with the existing trail on the east side of the county.

In St. Petersburg, workers began removing part of the train tracks along the old CSX railway corridor Monday to make way for the new trail.

The path will extend along the former train tracks to 14th Street S, where the tracks stop and will then continue along an existing sidewalk through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street S. From there, another mile of dedicated trail, separated from First Avenue S traffic by a barrier, will stretch the route to the waterfront.

The trail will be 10 feet wide and separated from the road by a 4-foot-wide traffic divider.

Cardio addicts can plan on cycling, jogging and walking on the completed trail as early as December, Kubicki said.

Some business leaders are counting the days until its completion.

"We need more people downtown, whether they are jogging, running or whatever it might be, it is good that they are here," said Barry Rothstein, president of the Downtown Business Association.

Midtown Sundries, a bar and restaurant on First Avenue S, has its own parking garage, so it probably will not be as affected by reduced parking, manager Chuck Knott said.

"To me anything that brings more people downtown is a good thing," he said. "Who knows - maybe they will pop in for a drink."

But some business owners doubted that reduced parking would be beneficial in the long run.

"I sincerely hope they would not eliminate any street parking," said Dwight Watkins, owner of Cafe Alma, a Mediterranean restaurant on First Avenue S. "If you are really going to develop a downtown area, I think you need to include more parking."

The extended trail will cost the city at least $6-million in design and construction costs, most of which has been provided by federal funding. The county, which oversees the trail, will cover the costs of a new trail overpass at 34th Street S.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 17, 2007, 21:21:01]


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