Grass-roots effort wins two-way street change
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- A long neighborhood effort to make the downtown section of Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street two-way won over the St. Petersburg City Council Thursday night.
The council unanimously voted to convert the downtown section of the thoroughfare, which now handles only southbound traffic, and also to change parallel Eighth Street into a two-way neighborhood street from the northbound companion artery it is now.
"This has truly been a grassroots, ground-up kind of approach," council member Jay Lasita said, adding that the King Street business association has been lobbying him on the issue for four years. "We need to do this."
If the project is a success, it could lead to converting other pairs of one-way downtown streets back to two-way traffic, which has become a national trend. Council members have said they would be unlikely to convert First avenues N and S, which allow speedy travel between eastern and western parts of the city.
The council asked city staffers to work out a reasonable plan for the M.L. King and Eighth streets conversion and to present an outline of it in August. A consultant has told a council subcommittee that it will cost about $1.9-million just to convert signals and pavement markings on King Street, a logical first step, so they also asked the staff to figure out how to pay for the switch.
About 20 people spoke about the plan Thursday night, and they were overwhelmingly supportive. Speakers said the change will slow traffic, make the street friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians and stimulate business in the desolate commercial district.
"How many of us have heard our neighbors complain about the frustration of driving downtown?" Roser Park Neighborhood Association president Kai Warren said. "For tourists, this frustration is manifold."
Area resident Bill Woolridge told the council, "I would like to see the drag racing ended on both these streets."
Also Thursday, the council appointed Eva Andujar as the new City Clerk.
Andujar was formerly deputy clerk under retired clerk Jane Brown. She has been serving as interim clerk. Andujar named staffers Amelia Preston and Cathy Davis her deputies.
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