Florida has some work to do. When it comes to creating walkable, bikeable environments, the Sunshine State is consistently rated one of the most dangerous places in America for anyone outside of a car.
But things are starting to change, thanks in part to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) more than 20 years of advocacy and coalition building in Florida, and a dedicated community of local planners and advocates. This month, work began on a multi-use pathway alongside the Courtney Campbell Causeway, passing over Old Tampa Bay and connecting Clearwater in Pinellas County with Tampa in Hillsborough County.
"In the not too distant future, this will be a spectacular stretch of trail that will build on the international draw of the area," says RTC's Florida State Director Ken Bryan. "Seeing this important project move forward is also evidence of the strong local support for the region's growing trail system."
This four-mile section, including a half-mile bridge portion, is a critical link in a developing network. Replacing a connection that was lost with the closure of the old Gandy Bridge Trail in 2008, the trail alongside the Courtney Campbell Causeway will provide a link to the extensive Pinellas Trail network to the west, and the growing network of non-motorized pathways around Tampa to the east.
When RTC launched a campaign in 2009 to urge the Florida Department of Transportation to make better use of federal funding dedicated for walking and biking infrastructure, a Courtney Campbell Causeway trail became the 'poster child' for the huge public improvements these funds could make.
Just a few years later, that advocacy effort has paid off, with a partnership of local agencies tapping into federal Transportation Enhancements (TE) funding, much to the delight of not only bikers and walkers in the area but also local business owners, public health officials, tourism agencies and elected officials. According to Tampa Bay online, an association representing Tampa's Westshore Business District is supportive of the trails' benefit to area hotels and office workers.
The trail will also make a more accessible feature of the natural setting which draws many thousands of visitors each year.