Central Avenue will be car free this Halloween • St Pete Catalyst

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Is this a taste of things to come?

From Nicollet shopping center in Minneapolis, to Las Ramblas in Barcelona, ​​to Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, at 16e Street Mall in Denver, there are excellent examples all over the world of priority pedestrian routes. Known for their relaxation, quietly wandering and the sense of security and freedom they provide to walkers and cyclists, these car-free streets are a way for the public to reclaim parts of the civic realm once relegated primarily to vehicles.

And for a day. on October 31st, St. Pete will experience what a car-free central avenue will look like for 22 entire city blocks, from MLK Jr. St. to 31st.st St.

This free event, hosted by Car-Free St. Pete and its partners in the City of St. Petersburg, Grand Central District, Edge District and Open Streets, will be open to residents of all ages, whether traveling on foot or by bike, skateboard, inline skates, monowheel, hoverboard or e-scooter, and will include Halloween-themed entertainment throughout St. Pete’s busiest hallway. From Come Out’s GhoulFest to drag queens appearances at Cocktail, trick-or-treat, street performances, various costume contests at St. Pete Pride’s FrankenPride, there is sure to be something for everyone at the very first St. Pete’s Halloween. on the central event.

The idea for this event was in part inspired by St. Pete’s Vision 2050 process, in which the community expressed interest in exploring more car-free options for parts of Central Avenue, as well as the need for safer streets and the efficient movement of people throughout the city; and finally the integration of several modes of transport in building a more vibrant community.

“This event is also another testament to how the Main Street programs that have worked so hard to build and revitalize the Edge and Grand Central neighborhoods have been and still are to keep our neighborhoods vibrant. Especially after the separation we have all experienced over the past few years, all organizations are eager to bring the community together at this safe outdoor event, ”said Barbara Volgewede, Executive Director of the Edge District.

In other words, the Halloween on Central event is symbolic of the progress made by the iconic and beloved St. Pete’s Central Avenue and the future that many residents would like to see for it, and that begs the question. : Could parts of Central be closed to vehicles more frequently? Could this become a regular event or a tradition in our city? Some might argue that this is already done once a month with the famous, or infamous (depending on who you ask), on the first Friday.

However, unlike First Friday, which typically only closes one block to car traffic, Halloween on Central will stretch nearly three full miles of Central Avenue. Plus, as a daytime event, it is sure to attract a wider variety of people – from children to families and the elderly – and encourage a wider range of daytime activities.

Cities around the world regularly open major arteries to pedestrians and two-wheelers. During the pandemic, in an effort to keep people safe outside, this trend was further explored by cities around the world. In 1974, Bogotá, Colombia became a global pioneer of Ciclovía, where they open approximately 76 miles of normally car-centric streets to pedestrians, cyclists, walkers and runners for seven hours every Sunday. The event is very popular, regularly attracting 2 million people, or about a quarter of the city’s population.

Bogotá has its fair share of traffic problems, pollution and congestion, but numerous studies have shown the positive impacts of the Ciclovía on health, and the program is seen as a great equalizer for the city, which has good stratification. economic. After all, open streets are an opportunity for everyone to come together regardless of the usual economic or social divides.

This concept has become a movement that has spread across the world and is called in predominantly English speaking countries Open Streets. While most cities may not be able to replicate the scale of what Bogotá has done, many cities like Philadelphia, Ottawa, Paris, Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Portland and even St. Petersburg are trying to adopt Open Streets. events, in some cases regularly and in other ad hoc cases. Obviously, the greatest benefits for the environment, public health and quality of life are when these events occur more frequently, and after this event gives the public a taste of a car-free powerhouse, this may leave them begging for more.

The other thing the Halloween on Central event is likely to help highlight is how refreshing it can be to have public spaces set aside not only to move us from A to B, but to enjoy our city, browse its many windows and have the time to really appreciate it and understand everything. Let’s be honest, we live in one of the most vibrant and active downtowns in Florida and most of us realize how lucky we are, but instead of spending most of our cars , how often do we take the time to lounge and to be in our own city?

After all, “the streets aren’t just for getting around; they should also allow you to just… sit, gather, lounge and play, ”said Michael Huston, local architect specializing in urban design and planning and member of the St. Pete car-free committee.

Central Avenue, known for its small businesses and unique boutiques, is a huge draw for locals and visitors alike, and is sure to be bustling with pedestrians keen to wander and shop on Halloween. Business owners across the hall seem to be sharing the excitement of the event and are busy preparing for an influx of activity.

“As the owner of two businesses in the Grand Central District of Central Avenue, I look forward to the biggest car-free event ever in St. Pete,” said Jeff Schorr, owner of the Craftsman House Gallery and Truffula Eco Boutique. “It’s exciting to bring the community together and show them how easy and enjoyable it is to navigate the ‘Main Street’ of St. Petersburg on foot, by bike, by scooter and by tram from Central Avenue.”

Studies have shown that one of the many benefits of car-free streets is that they can be a boon for small businesses and restaurants. Naturally, however, having ample parking and public transportation solutions becomes a necessary part of the equation for this to be successful.

The event will also be sure to highlight the usefulness and convenience of the micromobility options available to us in our city, whether they are e-bikes, electric scooters or single-wheelers; the possibilities are almost endless with today’s technological improvements. Along with this, the event is likely to raise awareness about much needed improvements to our local transit. Life without a car, or at least the ability to do without a car even occasionally, is considered ideal for many residents.

However, for many, it remains ambitious outside the city center due to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s (PSTA) lack of frequency, which sadly remains one of the most severely underfunded transit systems by comparison. to other metropolitan areas of our size nationwide. Despite its lack of fiscal funding, PSTA is constantly going beyond and innovating, from electric buses to the new SunRunner Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

For Halloween on Central, PSTA will increase service on the Central Avenue Trolley and redirect it to 1st Avenue North and South, serve bus stops on these routes every 15 minutes, and give passengers an overview of frequency and convenience. that the SunRunner will bring. People wearing a Halloween costume will ride for free during the event.

Hopefully Halloween on Central will be a big hit for small businesses and the community. So, as you stroll through a car-less central avenue in your scariest costume this Halloween, you might be asking yourself, “Is this what the future looks like?” “

Bryan Casañas-Scarsella is Legislative Assistant, City Council Office and a member of the St. Pete Car Free Committee.

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