St. Petersburg residents, like people in many cities, suffer from a growing array of health problems. Obesity. Heart disease. Asthma. High blood pressure.
There are many contributing factors to St. Petersburg’s public health challenges, but an important factor is the design of our city’s streets.
New bike lanes, trails, and improved street crossings, along with initiatives like Healthy St. Pete, are providing St. Petersburg residents with opportunities to live healthier lives. Despite these recent improvements, the design of many streets still poses barriers to improved public health.
Streets that are unsafe or uncomfortable for walking or biking discourage people from active transportation and reinforce sedentary lifestyles. They also encourage people to drive to complete even the most basic tasks – increasing the risk that vehicle crashes pose to life and limb and producing air pollution that makes life harder for those with asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Complete Streets - streets designed for all road users, including people on foot, on bike or taking transit - offer a solution to transportation and public health problems in St. Petersburg. Cities around the country have found that Complete Streets redesigns get people out and moving and provide more residents with an alternative to driving – creating the conditions that can make St. Petersburg a healthier community.
The City of St. Petersburg has already taken important steps toward Complete Streets. The City should continue that momentum by building more protected bike lanes, improving and connecting sidewalks and calming traffic.
St. Petersburg faces many health problems that are exacerbated by the design of our streets.
Streets designed solely to move cars discourage people from walking and biking and reinforce sedentary lifestyles, contributing to chronic health problems. At the same time, street designs that reinforce dependence on motor vehicles result in the creation of air pollution that exacerbates respiratory illnesses.
- The St. Petersburg/Tampa/Clearwater area has been ranked the seventh most dangerous metro area in the country for pedestrians. In 2016, 31 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in St. Petersburg, nearly half of them pedestrians.
- Nearly two-thirds of all adults in Pinellas County were either overweight or obese in 2013, a rate that, while lower than many other Florida counties, raises public health concerns. Meanwhile, nearly half of the county’s adults don’t get the amount of daily physical activity recommended for good health.
- Heart disease, exacerbated by inactivity and air pollution, causes nearly a quarter of all deaths in Pinellas County.
- Transportation is responsible for the vast majority of air pollution emissions that occur within Pinellas County. Children are particularly vulnerable: 16 percent of schools and day care centers in the county are within 500 feet of a busy roadway, and 21 percent of middle and high school students had at some point in their life been diagnosed with asthma.
- Some neighborhoods in St. Petersburg experience particularly severe public health problems: In the neighborhoods of Childs Park, Jordan Park, Melrose-Mercy/Pine Acres, Thirteenth St. Heights, Harbordale and Methodist Town, more than one in five adult residents suffer from asthma, more than a third are obese, and a third of adults don’t get any physical activity outside of work. Residents of many of these neighborhoods are also more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes than residents of other areas of the city.
Many streets in St. Petersburg were designed for the fast movement of cars, not the safe movement of people.
- The vast majority of workers in St. Petersburg commute to work by driving alone (80 percent), while only 2.4 percent take public transit and just over 3 percent walk or bike.
- From 2011 to 2016, the number of pedestrians killed increased nearly 30 percent.
- Of the 14 pedestrians killed in car crashes in 2016, nine were in Midtown or South St. Petersburg. Multiple fatalities occurred at 18th Avenue South, 34th Street South, Dr. Martin Luther King Street South, and 5th Avenue North.
Figure ES-1. Areas of St. Petersburg With the Highest Prevalence of Obesity, Asthma and Lack of Physical Activity, by Census Tract
Properly implemented, Complete Streets can make St. Petersburg streets safer for all users and improve public health by reducing air pollution and encouraging people to be active.
Complete Streets make streets safer.
- Complete Street redesigns reduce all crashes on the roadway by an average of 19 percent.
- People on bikes suffer one-tenth the rate of injuries when they travel in bike lanes with curbs to separate bikes than when they travel on streets without bike lanes.
- Complete Streets designs also calm traffic, reducing the likelihood of crashes and reducing their severity when they do occur. A pedestrian hit by a car traveling 20 miles an hour is more than twice as likely to survive a crash as a pedestrian hit by a car going 45 miles per hour.
Improving infrastructure for biking and walking through Complete Streets gets more people out and moving as part of their daily routine.
- More people bike to work in cities with more bike lanes and paths, regardless of climate, socioeconomic status and other factors.
- After the Federal Highway Administration invested in pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure in four cities, pedestrian trips in those communities increased 23 percent while the number of cycling trips increased 48 percent.
When people shift to walking, biking and public transportation, they often leave their cars behind, reducing air pollution.
- Federal studies have found that half of all trips taken with private vehicles are less than three miles in length, a distance that can easily be biked in 20 minutes. More than a quarter of all car trips are under a mile, which can be walked within 20 minutes.
- Creating a safe built environment for people to get to and from public transportation or make transit connections boosts transit ridership.
Experience in cities around the country has shown that designing streets to allow for safe travel on foot, by bike, or on transit can get people out and moving, with great public health benefits. St. Petersburg has the opportunity to build upon its previous success with Complete Streets improvements downtown and in the popular Grand Central District and expand better streets across the city.
To date, the City has installed more than 200 bulb-outs (extensions of curbs at intersections) downtown, which help slow traffic and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street; painted lane markings for bike routes; and piloted flashing lights on crosswalk signs to improve pedestrian safety along the Pinellas Trail and 4th Street. The flashing lights at pedestrian crossings in St. Petersburg increased the number of drivers yielding from 18 percent to 81 percent.
Bulb-outs, an extension of the curb, as pictured above in a pilot project at 2nd Avenue North and 5th Street, shorten the distance for pedestrians to cross the street, make pedestrians more visible to drivers, and help slow turning vehicles. They are one tool that can help make streets safer and more accessible for people on foot or bike.
By building a broad network of Complete Streets in all neighborhoods, we can create a healthier St. Petersburg. The stronger the plan, the greater the public health impact will be. Specifically, the City of St. Petersburg should:
- Make protected bike lanes standard. Since separated bike lanes improve safety and attract more riders over paint-only lanes, buffered or protected lanes should be the rule – not the exception – on streets with three or more lanes or heavy traffic.
- Complete sidewalks and crosswalks around schools. The City should expand and maintain pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks to ensure that all children in St. Petersburg have a safe route to school.
- Create a city-wide system of neighborhood greenways. St. Petersburg’s neighborhood streets should be considered for a connected greenway system for walking and biking. Improvements should expand on existing neighborhood traffic calming, and include traffic diversion, way-finding signage, and safe crossings of major streets along the routes.
- Prioritize safety over speed. To reduce serious crashes and improve community health, the City should encourage slower vehicle speeds by: narrowing or eliminating vehicle lanes, planting street trees, building bulb-outs, installing protected bike lanes, changing signal timing and more. Additionally, speeds on neighborhood streets should be limited to 20 miles per hour and the speed limit on bigger streets should be no more than 30 m.p.h. Enforcement of speed limits should adequately address speeding as a public safety issue.
- Implement road diets. Where appropriate, the City should consider converting four- or five-lane streets to three lanes to calm traffic and create space for other infrastructure, like bike lanes, bus lanes, wider sidewalks, and on-street parking.
- Continue to seek additional resources so Complete Streets are fully funded. The City should consider increasing Complete Streets funding so that the streets can be improved and maintained reliably in the future. The return on investment is high, considering the public health benefits: by fully investing in Complete Streets, the City of St. Petersburg can help reduce asthma, obesity and traffic fatalities, among other health outcomes.