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Pinellas County plans to replace aging bridges

Many of us drive across the local bridges on a daily basis, whether going to work, school or leisure, without a second thought to when they were built or what condition they might be in today. Pinellas County government, however, is taking into consideration the aging infrastructure of local bridges and working toward a solution for improvement.

“We have a systematic rating for bridges in Pinellas County, which we monitor pretty closely,” says Mary Burrell, Public Information Manager for Pinellas County.

Burrell says two bridges in particular are on the county’s radar: San Martin Boulevard Bridge in St. Petersburg, and the Dunedin Causeway. Both bridges were built in the early 1960s, with  life expectancy of about 50 years. Now that time is running out, it is time to address the aging spans.

“The San Martin bridge has some structural rating deficiencies that warrant it being evaluated for future considerations, she says. “It has been rehabilitated over the years and now it is time to decide whether rehab or replacement is warranted.”

Burrell goes on to say that while there are rating deficiencies, construction on the bridge would be no sooner than 2018 due to a lack of funding.

“We are in the study phase, it’s an 18-month study, and the purpose of that is to seek funding from the highway administration. We currently have what could be considered matching funds from ‘Penny from Pinellas’ county funding for fiscal year 2018 and 2019, which is very much predicated on our ability to obtain matching funds from federal highway administrations.”

As for the Dunedin Causeway, it is going through the same process, although Burrell says it is moving approximately six months ahead.

“With the new technology available today, we are shooting for a life expectancy of about 75 years, compared to 50 as when these bridges were built,” she says. “The bridges are safe, there are just some ratings that warrant it to be in our radar, and make sure we have funding in place when timing is appropriate.”

Website ranks Tampa Bay area near top on 5 lists

Local residents have something to cheer about as the recently released 2015 Best Places to Live rankings by Niche places the Tampa Bay area on five of the website’s top lists.

Niche, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as data taken from residents, measures factors such as livability, local schools, safety, jobs and housing in cities across the country.

“We collect our data from the U.S. Census and National Center for Education Statistics, which helps us define and classify cities and towns", says Alex Caffee, business and marketing analyst. “We also get survey data from our users who log onto our site and give feedback on their community, which also makes up part of our data set.”

So how did the Tampa Bay area measure up?
  • Oldsmar came in #11 on the list’s ‘best suburb to buy a house in Florida’
  • South Highpoint (#1) and Bradenton Beach (#3) for ‘suburbs with the easiest commute in Florida’
  • South Highpoint came in at #51 on the national list of ‘easiest commutes in America’
  • Oldsmar wins again with its #14 ranking for ‘best suburb to raise a family in Florida’
  • Hillsborough County takes the honor for its #10 ranking for ‘best counties to raise a family in Florida’
The site asks members to assess their communities by answering questions on topics ranging from crime rates and school ratings to grocery stores and libraries.

“Niche.com helps people decide where they are going to go next in life,” Caffee says. “We want to help individuals and families decide where they want to live, and assist them with that decision by giving them the data.”

Trail along Courtney Campbell Causeway opens for bicycling, walking, running

Driving along the Courtney Campbell Causeway taking in the waterfront views of Tampa Bay is one of the perks to living in the region. Now bicyclists, walkers and runners can enjoy that same breathtaking view while commuting or visiting on a new separate trail that runs parallel to the Causeway.

The $23 million project connects Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The trail is designed for non-motorized vehicles and transports, with the exception of motorized equipment for people with disabilities.

“The trail is approximately 12 miles,” says David Botello with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). “It starts in the vicinity of Rocky Point in Tampa and ends at Bayshore Boulevard in Clearwater.”

The trail was funded by a combination of state and federal funds, and was a priority project for both the city of Clearwater and the city of Tampa.

“The Courtney Campbell Causeway project was identified in the city of Tampa's greenways and trails master plan that was adopted in 2001, as a potential off-road trail connection providing a regional link in a larger trail system,” says Karla Price, Landscape Architect with the city of Tampa.

Parking is available on the Tampa side of the trail at Ben T. Davis Beach. On the Pinellas side, parking can be found at the Courtney Campbell Causeway beach, located on the south side of the causeway near Damascus Road in Clearwater.

According to Botello, the city of Clearwater will host a grand opening of the Pinellas side of the trail, on Monday, June 22nd. For more information on the event, visit the city of Clearwater's Facebook page.

Clearwater designs investment in U.S. 19 corridor to stimulate local economy

The City of Clearwater is adopting new zoning standards along U.S. 19  in an effort to make the Pinellas County transportation corridor more economically attractive for businesses and residents. The corridor runs seven miles from Belleair Road to the south to Curlew Road to the north, and includes a portion of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to the east.
 
"The primary intent of the project is to support the transition of the U.S. 19 corridor from its historic status as an unlimited access major arterial, to something that is economically viable in the context of the limited access like a freeway environment,'' says Michael Delk, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Clearwater.
 
The project is being funded by federal stimulus funds in the amount of $350,000 from the Obama Administration and has been rolled out into three phases. 
 
"The first phase was the greenprint, which was set towards sustainability issues, one component of which, was trying to promote more transit,'' says Delk. "We followed that with the plan of the U.S. 19 corridor, and now we are in the third phase, which is the implementation phase.''
 
The purpose of the project is to get more people living along the corridor, increasing employment opportunities, and promoting a greater reliance on transit as an option along the corridor.
 
"Clearly I don't need to describe the brand that is Westshore,'' he says. "When someone hears the words 'Westshore,' they know where it is and what it is. It s a huge area and it's got its own brand, and I think in the longer term, U.S. 19 has the potential to be something of similar importance in terms of economic development.''

Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

Downtown Tampa and Channelside residents will rest a little easier in coming months, thanks to a $1.35 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Trains travel through Tampa on a daily basis, and their horns “are a nuisance,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Train horns are sounded in compliance with federal rules and regulations, which require a train to blast its horn for 15 to 20 seconds at any public crossing. As a result, the loud but legally mandatory horns are “bouncing off the buildings throughout downtown, bothering residents and impacting our economic opportunity as our urban core continues to densify," Buckhorn says.

In fact, the sound of train horns in downtown Tampa has been such a sore subject among residents that some have turned to a Facebook page, called “Help Tampa Sleep,'' to address the topic in a public forum.

Back in August 2014, the city contracted King Engineering Associates to study the development of a “quiet zone” in downtown Tampa.

Buckhorn’s staff reached out to the FDOT to seek information about quiet zones after learning that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was to include quiet zone funding in the state budget. The funds, awarded to the City of Tampa through FDOT’s Quiet Zone Grant program, will be used to create the “quiet zone” along CSX railroad tracks throughout downtown Tampa -- meaning trains will no longer blare their horns in the middle of the night as they pass through town.   

State funding will not cover the entire cost of creating a “quiet zone” in the middle of downtown Tampa -- the anticipated cost for the projects is $2.7 million. FDOT grants will provide up to half the cost of creating quiet zones. The projected improvements are expected to begin in summer 2015.

To silence train horns in downtown Tampa, the City of Tampa must meet “quiet zone” safety requirements established by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project will include the upgrade of nine public highway-rail crossings through downtown Tampa -- from North Jefferson Street to Doyle Carlton Drive -- with additional gating, street medians and signage. 

“Downtown residents and businesses can coexist with the trains, and a quiet zone allows us to strike that balance,” Buckhorn says.

Some citizens are concerned with the solution, however. Gasparilla Interactive Festival Executive Director Vinny Tafuro, a downtown resident, says that he is "hopeful that the project successfully quiets the horns," but is also "concerned with the aesthetics of how the crossings will look, and the reality of the CSX engineers actually following the guidelines and not blowing the horns."

"As a fan of innovative technology, I would prefer a long-term solution that improved on a loud horn as a warning," Tafuro says. "Seems archaic."

In fact, the Train Quiet Zone rules do stipulate that a train horn may be blown in a "quiet zone" during emergency situations.

To view the grant application and award, please visit the City of Tampa’s website or click here. To learn more about the Train Horn Rule as well as Train Quiet Zones, visit the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

Bus riders get new transit center in Pinellas Park

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting ridership records and filling a need for a growing urban population in Pinellas County. Two express routes also carry riders to and from downtown Tampa.

Now the new Pinellas Park Transit Center at 3801 70th Ave. is filling a "huge hole'' in customer services for riders in the middle of the county, according to Brad Miller, PSTA's chief executive officer, who spoke at the center's grand opening on Jan. 13.

The transit center is the first Customer Service Center in 13 years. The last was opened at Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg in 2002. Riders at the new transit center can buy tickets, figure out bus schedules or get a quick question answered by a PSTA employee.

The facility replaces the former transit center behind the Shoppes at Park Place. Boulder Venture South, a commercial real estate company with offices in Clearwater, donated the land. CHTR Development, LLC, built the transit center after winning the contract with a low bid of about $360,000.

"This is the first public/private partnership in our system," says Bill Jonson, PSTA'S board chairman. "It turns out to be a welcome one."

The transit center has public restrooms, a 2-station customer service booth, security cameras, an ATM machine, a new sidewalk and a raised traffic table for safer pedestrian crossings.

In November 2014 voters rejected a "Greenlight Pinellas" proposal for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 

"PSTA is in sort of a transition phase right now, looking beyond Greenlight Pinellas, looking at ways we might be more efficient and provide the best services," says Miller. "No matter what our funding status, our size or growth, we have to maintain our (commitment) to our customers."

In fiscal year 2013-2014, riders boarded PSTA buses about 14.5 million times or about 35,000 more boardings than the previous fiscal year, according to PSTA records.

2 major Tampa streets get new trees, flowers in $1 million makeover

Two gateways into Tampa will look prettier after a $1 million makeover from the city of Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant from the state's Landscape on State Roadways program will pay for new landscaping along Hillsborough Avenue from the Hillsborough River to Interstate 275, and along Dale Mabry Highway from Gandy Boulevard to MacDill Air Force Base. The landscaped design along Dale Mabry, which ends at the air base, will be a tribute to fallen soldiers.

“Just as we did throughout the urban core, we’re expanding our beautification efforts and working to transform our arterial roads to become the welcome signs they should be.  A community feels about itself the way it looks,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a news release announcing the grant. “These roads are true gateways throughout our community.” 

The Hillsborough Avenue gateway runs through Seminole Heights, which is an emerging neighborhood that is home to a growing collection of premier dining destinations, boutiques and micro-breweries.

Nearly 10 years ago the area was spruced up with a landscaped median and a red-brick wall on Hillsborough Avenue between Central and Florida avenues.

"It's just a little tired looking," says Brad Suder, planning and design superintendent of the city's parks and recreation department.

Landscape architect Celia Nichols of Lutz-based Nichols Landscape Architecture will design new landscaping for the roadway, which Suder says will cost between $300,000 and $350,000.

Approximately $800,000 will be spent along Dale Mabry on a landscaped memorial leading to the entrance of MacDill that will honor fallen soldiers. Suder says the design, which is about 50 percent completed, is being done in-house by city employees.

These projects are part of the city's "Opportunity Corridors" efforts, which began in 2012. 

"We really want the city to look like a vibrant city that is open for business and positioned to encourage more business, and to have a better experience for visitors,"  Suder says.

Among the beautified roadways are Bayshore Boulevard, Ashley Drive, Franklin Street, Doyle Carlton Drive, Union Station and Interstate 275 ramps at Orange and Jefferson streets. More than 700 trees were planted in the downtown area along with lighting and irrigation.

Green is the color of Tampa's newest bike lanes

Tampa is adding a new color palette to its bicycle lanes.

Green-painted stripes will mark off designated bike lanes on two road projects that will re-surface portions of Cleveland and Platt streets. Both are major roads carrying heavy traffic loads into and out of downtown. Work is underway on Cleveland; crews will start on Platt on Dec. 8.

City officials say these will be the city's first green, protected bike lanes. More likely will appear as more roadways are re-surfaced.

Roads generally are striped in white and yellow. New recommendations from federal highway safety officials point to green as an attention-grabber for bike lanes when motorists and bicyclists are sharing the road.

Tampa Transportation Manager Jean Duncan says "conflict areas" on Cleveland and Platt will get the green stripes. "These are areas where we feel there is more weaving and merging going on and more chance for bicyclists to be in a precarious situation," she says.

The city also will reduce speed limits on Cleveland and Platt from 40 mph to 35 mph as part of traffic calming in the area. 

The addition of bike lanes using the latest in safety design is in keeping with the vision for the city's downtown residential and commercial growth. City officials anticipate more people pedaling along city streets. And, Coast Bike Share recently opened 30 bike-rental kiosks around the city.

Construction on Cleveland runs from the Hillsborough River west to South Armenia Avenue. The work will repair existing utilities and drainage. Energy-efficient street lighting and pedestrian ramps that meet federal disability rules will be installed.

A bike lane will be added on the north side of Cleveland with additional parking designated on the south side. Work on the approximately $2 million project will be done in phases by Ajax Paving. The project is scheduled for completion in April 2015.

“There probably isn’t a roadway as in need as Cleveland Street is, but we’re going in to fix the source, the problems you can’t see below. As the City moves forward to repair and improve our existing infrastructure on streets like Platt and Cleveland, it’s important that we make sure they are really serving all its users, including cyclists and pedestrians,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “In this case, we are adding new bike infrastructure, the first of their kind in Tampa, but we’re already planning miles more.”

Platt will be resurfaced from Audubon Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard. One travel lane will be removed to make room for a bike lane and additional on-street parking on the south side. The approximately $1.4 million project also will be done in phases by Asphalt Paving Systems, Inc. Work is scheduled for completion in February 2015.

During construction, city officials recommend motorists use alternate routes to avoid potential traffic congestion. However, access to businesses and residences will be kept open.

CSX terminal key to thousands of new jobs in Central Florida

Polk County and the city of Winter Haven are beneficiaries of a transportation, logistics and distribution hub that could bring thousands of jobs to the area over the next five to 10 years.

The terminal for the CSX Central Florida Logistics Center in Winter Haven, which opened in April, is the first step in developing about 7.9 million square feet of warehouse, distribution and manufacturing facilities, all located on about 930 acres surrounding the CSX rail line. About 300,000 containers of goods will be processed annually from rail to truck or truck to rail with state-of-the-art technology. 

Winter Haven Industrial Developers paid about $8.5 million for about 500 acres of the site, according to Polk County records. The remaining acreage will be part of a second phase of development.

About 30 employees oversee daily operations at the terminal which is a regional link to Tampa, Orlando and Miami, all within one-day truck trips from Winter Haven. CSX officials say they expect about 1,800 direct jobs and as many as 8,500 indirect jobs to be realized in the next decade.

The exact number of jobs will be tied to the kinds of businesses that locate around the terminal, says Bruce Lyon, executive director of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council.  He places job estimates in the range of 4,000 to 8,000.

"We are as a city and county well prepared to embrace any new development that occurs on the site," says Lyon. "The labor force is ready."

He points to the educational opportunities for a trained work force including Polk State College, a few miles from the CSX terminal. There also is the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and according to Lyon, a sometimes overlooked fact that Winter Haven has an immense amount of broad-band capacity coveted by the logistics industry.

"The logistics industry is very advanced in terms of technology," Lyon says.

And overall the industry offers higher than average paying jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, logisticians' median annual salary in May 2012 was about $72,000 with the highest paid earning about $112,000 and and the lowest paid about $45,000.

Construction of the terminal took about two years and created about 200 jobs with the aid of Polk Works, the county's workforce development board.

The intermodal terminal is located on about 318 acres off State Road 60 at Logistics Boulevard. It has five 3,000-foot loading tracks and two 10,000-foot arrival and departure tracks. Three electric cranes load and unload containers.

"They are designed for noise reduction and are environmentally friendly," says CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay. "It's huge. It's very efficient and uses the most advanced technology."

The containers carry goods from tee shirts to televisions, Seay says.

The terminal project is part of a legislatively-approved agreement in which the state of Florida  paid about $432 million for about 60 miles of CSX tracks. The deal morphed through several years of negotiations and controversy over cost and the potential impact of increased freight traffic through cities such as Lakeland.

Proponents see the deal as an economic boost to the region and a crucial link in plans for a SunRail commuter line through Orlando along CSX tracks. The agreement required CSX to "reinvest every dime in infrastructure in Florida," says Seay.

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay Host Urbanism On Tap 4.1

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF on September 9, 2014 starting at 5:45 p.m. 

Starting this fall, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved north of Downtown Tampa to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series highlighting “The Role of Universities in Urban Design and Innovation’’ and engage the University of South Florida (USF) community in the conversation.  

Led by Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay, Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event, focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The upcoming event, entitled “The USF Factor,” is the first discussion of a new three-part series focused on the relationship between University of South Florida and Tampa’s urban landscape. 

Typically, universities across the country are drivers of jobs, education, innovation and urban development as well as redevelopment. Attendees of the upcoming event will look at how this trend plays out in Tampa. 

The event will focus on how the university is important for Tampa’s local economy and politics and how it can play a critical role in creating vibrant urban environments that inspire innovation. The event will explore related issues, opportunities and challenges for a range of stakeholders, including the residents, the city and the university. 

The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and website, to continue the conversation online, following the event. 

Venue: PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF (2836 E Bearss Ave Tampa, FL 33613); 
Date and Time: September 9, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Sources: Erin Chantry, CNU Tampa Bay; Ashly Anderson, Urban Charrette

Hillsborough Leaders Engage Public On Transportation

When local residents dream of transportation Utopia in Hillsborough County, what exactly do they see?

Do they see roads repaved and potholes filled? Widened interstates with commuter lanes? Bridges repaired? More connections between neighborhoods and cities? Expansion of rapid transit bus service? Automated "people movers"?

Is light rail on anyone's mind, for or against? And where do they dream the money will be found? 

Hillsborough County elected officials, community leaders and a soon-to-be-hired transportation consultant will begin a listening campaign with a series of public meetings soon after Labor Day.

A report on the findings will be brought in October to Hillsborough County's Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a committee of the seven county commissioners, mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the chairman of HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit). 

"We're not selling anything, but we want to be able to bring back something that will be useful to you," says Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. He spoke to the group on August 12 before a packed county commission chamber.

Documents and a video show the magnitude of transportation problems facing the county. 

Estimates for roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks in all parts of the county is pegged at $4.3 billion. The cost of repaving roadways alone is estimated at $745 million. Projects for walk/bike trails and sidewalks is about $680 million.

Depending on chosen options, mass-transit could be another $6 billion. 

Funding could come through a one cent sales tax that county commissioners appear ready to put to a referendum in 2016. If approved, estimates are for more than $6 billion to be collected over 30 years.

Ideas include widening five miles of Cypress Avenue; bus rapid transit and a rail option between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa; bus rapid transit on U.S. 60 to and from Brandon; and, a water ferry from Gibsonton to MacDill with later expansion to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Policy planners clearly have in mind the political thumping that voters gave to a light rail referendum nearly four years ago. Voters then complained about the lack of specifics.

"That was very muddy. That's what happened to it," says County Commissioner Les Miller."We want to make sure it's crystal clear."

County Commissioner Victor Crist is concerned about time constraints in reaching out to the public by October. "I'm not sure we have enough time to sell this," he says.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is ready to forge ahead. "We've got to have a game," says Buckhorn. "I don't know any other way to play than full throttle. ...I can tell you sooner is better than later."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Mike Merrill, Les Miller, Victor Crist, Hillsborough County; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Construction Progresses On Pinellas Side Of Courtney Campbell Trail

The Courtney Campbell Causeway is known more for the vehicular traffic that zooms overland between Tampa and Clearwater's beaches. But pedestrians and bicylists can expect in the near future to make that entire trek on a parallel Courtney Campbell Trail, and along the way enjoy breathtaking views of Old Tampa Bay.

The trail on the Hillsborough County side of the bay is complete along with Tampa's new Cypress Point Park playground and a 45-foot high bridge at the county line between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The next phase involves the trail's tie-in to Pinellas and Clearwater.

Completion of the project by Pepper Contracting is more than a year away, according to Florida Department of Transportation officials. Trail and road widening are under way. In addition the causeway will be repaved and a small pedestrian bridge built. Test piles for the bridge are installed.

When finished, the trail will allow pedestrian and bicycle access from Veteran's Expressway in Tampa to Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of Clearwater. Bayshore leads to Safety Harbor and more trails. It also will connect with additional recreational trails on both sides of the Bay. 

The approximately 9.5 mile causeway trail is a project championed by the Westshore Alliance, which last year unveiled a Public Realm Master Plan to make the Westshore neighborhoods of Tampa more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Trails, wider sidewalks and narrower traffic lanes are among the recommendations.

"We're excited about the trail. It will be one of the premier trails in the entire United States," says Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, which represents the interests of the Westshore Business District.

The district is Florida's largest office community with more than 4,000 businesses and 93,000 employees.

The Westshore area is booming with new shops, restaurants and offices. But residents of established neighborhoods, such as Carver City and Lincoln Gardens, soon will have new neighbors moving into more than 1,700 apartments either under construction or ready for leasing. "We're turning into a neighborhood as well," Rotella says.

Many of the new apartments front Boy Scout Boulevard which is slated for resurfacing later this year. Plans also are to widen sidewalks and enhance existing cross walks.

The alliance is contributing about $113,000 to help with pedestrian improvements and make it easier to walk to International Plaza as well as shops and restaurants on Westshore Boulevard. In the 2014-2015 Hillsborough County budget, Rotella anticipates about $1.3 million for a Westshore Boulevard redesign.

And he also is looking ahead to another trail segment from Dale Mabry Highway at Interstate 275 to Hesperides Street with a tie-in to Cypress Point Park and then onto Clearwater via the Courtney Campbell Trail.

 "Being able to access a beautiful waterway, that is a great advantage for the business district," Rotella says.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Ron Rotella, Westshore Alliance

Two Fold Bicycle Shop Opens In St. Petersburg

A new bicycle shop in St. Petersburg caters to enthusiasts who want the zip and portability of bicycles that can be folded to the size of carry-on luggage. Or tucked into a back pack. 

On May 10 Michael Davis will hold a grand opening for Two Fold Bicycle Shop at 657 N. Central Ave. The shop, which quietly opened at the beginning of the month, deals exclusively in folding bicycles made by major brand names Brompton, Dahon and Tern. Shortly Davis will add bicycles from Bike Friday, an Oregon company that custom-makes folding bicycles.

"They are fun to ride," says Davis, who also designs and builds wheel frames. "People who are into them really get into them. You can see them out there. It is a trend that is picking up now."

Their popularity makes sense to a lot of people who are embracing the new urban lifestyle. And, while his shop is in St. Petersburg, his first two sales were to residents of downtown Tampa's growing high-rise community.

The folding bicycles have smaller wheels, quick acceleration and ease of steering. Hinges allow for the bicycles to be folded up for easy storage at work or at home. And for multi-modal commuters they are easily carried on and off buses.

Prices range from about $400 for a one-gear folding bicycle to more sophisticated models that can cost $3,500 or more.

Davis is an avid bicyclist himself. He formerly owned 66 Fixed Gear and Singlespeed, a St. Petersburg shop that did repairs and sold custom-made bicycles. But it was a trip last year to the Interbike International Bicycle Expo in Las Vegas that spurred Davis to focus his newest business on the expo's break-out star.

 "Everybody was talking about folding bicycles," he says.

The bicycles originally were invented for use by military forces in war times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Until recently they often were novelty items tucked away in a shop corner.

That is changing along with the urban landscape.

Condominiums and apartments are going up in downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa. The Central Avenue district in St. Petersburg is stirring to life with new boutique shops, art galleries, restaurants, offices and neighborhood bars. College students and young professionals are embracing the urban experience.

Tampa has at least five residential towers slated for construction in the next few years in downtown and Channel District.

The folding bicycles are the right fit, Davis says, for people who have to go up and down elevators, share space with roommates or just want a healthier living environment with fewer automobile trips. 

"Once you get folding bicycles in front of people, they practically sell themselves," says Davis.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Michael Davis, Two Fold Bicycle Shop


 

South Tampa Boutique Hotel Opens To Guests

The long-awaited opening of the food-themed Epicurean Hotel on South Howard Avenue officially is two days after Christmas. But General Manager Tom Haines anticipates a "soft" opening with at least some rooms occupied by guests a few days sooner.
 
And gift cards are available for hotel stays, dining at the Élevage restaurant, hand-crafted cocktails at the roof-top bar EDGE, sweets at Chocolate Pi patisserie or culinary classes at the Epicurean Theatre.
 
"The response has been overwhelming," says Haines. "It seems to resonate with people."
 
The 137-room boutique hotel is in the Hyde Park historic district, across from landmark Bern's Steak House, founded more than 50 years ago by Gert and the late Bern Laxer. Their son, David Laxer, and Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging and Development of Tampa are partners in the hotel project. Marriott Hotel International, Inc., will add the Epicurean to its Autograph Collection, a select group of hotels that are operated without the Marriott name but offers guests the perks that come with the Marriott brand.
 
Among unique features at the hotel are bicycles for touring Hyde Park and Bayshore Boulevard and evening wine samplings.

The hotel also will have Chocolate Pi, a French-style patisserie, Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits, and 5,200 square-foot flexible event room suitable for weddings, honeymoons, bar and bat mitzvahs.

In February a full-service luxury spa, Evangeline, will open.
 
The hotel is taking an innovative path and tapping into the trendy "foodie" movement with culinary classes for beginners and experienced cooks. World-known chefs and sommeliers will visit the state-of-the-art Epicurean Theatre for cooking demonstrations, wine exhibitions and special events.

And the hotel will participate in the annual Bern's WineFest.

"There are so many foodies out there," Haines says. "They are hungry and thirsty for more knowledge. The theater cements that for people."

The first culinary classes will begin Jan. 20 with Mastering Wine Aromas. Other early topics are History of the Cocktail and tea blending. Haines says classes will be held "about every day of the week."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tom Haines, Epicurean Hotel

Construction Begins On New Transit Center In Pinellas Park

Bus riders will have an easier time of figuring out schedules and making connections when the new Pinellas Park Transit
Center opens in the summer of 2014.

CHTR Development, LLC, is in charge of construction after winning the contract with a low bid of $359,000. The new facility will replace the current transit center at 70th Avenue North behind the Shoppes at Park Place.

It will be manned with transit employees who can sell tickets and provide information at a customer service window. There also will be restrooms and water fountains for the hundreds of riders who get on and off the buses. It will be the first time central Pinellas has had such a fully equipped center, says Bob Lasher, spokesman for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The new transit center is an effort to modernize bus service and increase ridership.

In November 2014 voters will have a chance to vote on a referendum for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Bob Lasher, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
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