Trail of the Month: January 2002
Pinellas Trail, Florida
The Pinellas Trail —a unique, urban 47-mile greenway in Pinellas County, Florida— is a composite of many different kinds of trails and trail situations. From picturesque parks and scenic coastal areas to residential neighborhoods and historic urban downtowns, the Pinellas Trail has plenty to offer those seeking a recreational facility or a convenient alternative transportation option. With 1.2 million users per year, the trail ranks as the third most heavily used rail-trail in America.
The Pinellas Trail has succeeded since opening 10 years ago in providing a safe off-road facility for a variety of non-motorized uses from its northern trailhead in Tarpon Springs to its southern terminus in St. Petersburg. This is particularly true for bicyclists who use the trail to commute to and from work or to run errands.
One of the interesting aspects of the trail is the degree to which it is integrated with the towns and cities it passes through. This is particularly true of Dunedin, one of the oldest cities on Florida's west coast. Dunedin, once one of Florida's chief seaport and trading centers, saw its local economy slow considerably through the 1980s. In 1990 —the year before 4.2 miles of the Pinellas Trail opened through the heart of its downtown— the vacancy rate in Dunedin was 30 percent.
With the opening of the Pinellas Trail in 1991, though, Dunedin suddenly had 500 people traveling through its downtown on weekdays and 800 per day on weekends. Not content to leave their hopes for economic revitalization resting entirely on the trail, Dunedin's community redevelopment agency invested about $1.2 million to improve their main street's streetscape, which included new sidewalks, numerous pedestrian crosswalks, stop signs and a new posted speed limit of 15 miles per hour. With the combination of the trail's proximity to downtown and the improved accessibility for those on foot, Dunedin's main street is now a vibrant and distinctive place that no longer has vacancies.
In this same tradition, the Pinellas Trail is continuing to connect communities, starting with last year's opening of the Cross Bayou Bridge, connecting the southern part of the trail in St. Petersburg with the northern portion of the trail across a mile of the Boca Ciega Bay. The $4 million bridge, designated for non-motorized use, was built by the state of Florida for Pinellas County using federal money from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program. The Cross Bayou Bridge takes trail users off the busy Bay Pines Boulevard Bridge and allows people to safely and peacefully cross the bay while taking in the frequent dolphin, manatee and egret sightings.
Future improvements to the trail include an innovative partnership between Pinellas County and the Florida Power Corporation that will eventually add 20.6 miles to the trail. Pinellas County is still in negotiations with Florida Power regarding this corridor, but the hope is that this extension will connect the Pinellas Trail to the Friendship Trail Bridge, a 2.6-mile recreational trail over Tampa Bay that connects Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
If you happen to be in Florida this month, take the time to head over to its western coast to see how one county transformed a 34-mile abandoned CSX rail bed into a community asset for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy.