Forward Pinellas outreach shows support for rail transit

As part of a public outreach campaign, Forward Pinellas staff asks the public to play the “ball game.” Participants are given marbles to “spend” on different ways to reduce traffic and improve transportation. In this photo, the jar for improvements for bicycles and pedestrians and the one for rail transit are overflowing. The jar with the least marbles, on the far right, is more roads.

CLEARWATER — Community outreach is a big part of Advantage Pinellas — Forward Pinellas’s new Long Range Transportation Plan that links land use and economic development strategies with major transportation investments.

During the May 8 Forward Pinellas Board meeting, Planning Manager Chelsea Favero showed four photos of results of an outreach activity called the “ball game.” People were given a number of marbles (money) to spend in jars representing different ways to reduce traffic and improve transportation.

The choices included more technology, improvements for bicycles and pedestrians, better bus services, bus rapid transit, rail transit or more roads.

The least popular option, according to the number of marbles in the jars, was more roads; however, in two of the four photos, the jars representing rail transit were overflowing. In one of the two, the jar for improvements for bicycles and pedestrians also was overflowing.

In a third photo, the rail transit jar had some space in the top, but it still had the most marbles. In the fourth, more technology had the most marbles, followed by BRT, with rail, better bus service and bicycle/pedestrian accommodations seeming to have close to the same number.

The “game” is not statistically valid.

Forward Pinellas Board member and Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski described the results as “mind blowing” and said it sent a “major message.”

However, Forward Pinellas Chair Dave Eggers pointed out that it was only four “snapshots,” which didn’t necessarily speak for the entire county.

Favero said staff had presented the ball game at several public events in areas from St. Petersburg to Clearwater, including two at Heritage Village in Largo. She said staff planned to go to events in areas north of Clearwater to do the same outreach.

Board member Janet Long, who also serves on the Pinellas County Commission and is the Chair of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, said people would likely be stunned by the results. Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton agreed they weren’t expected. He said his staff had been surprised too.

Public outreach will continue, giving more residents a chance to play the game. An online survey is coming soon, Favero said.

Principal Planner Sarah Caper went over additional work staff is doing for Advantage Pinellas, including evaluating potential premium transit corridors.

Considerations include workforce development opportunities and potential; designated growth and redevelopment areas; equal access; transit-dependent populations; and job and population densities.

Future growth also is a factor. Estimates show a 9.9% increase in population by 2045 with an 11% increase in employment.

In other business, the board:

• listened to a report from auditor Scott Anderson, director of Cherry Bekaert, who said Forward Pinellas had received unmodified opinions, which means all is well, with only one material weakness in its annual audit. Pinellas Planning Council also received unmodified opinions with no material weaknesses.

• approved amendments to the 2022-2023 transportation improvement program and amendments to the public participation plan.

• approved changes to the Transportation Alternative Program.

• listened to a report on recommendations to improve the intersection at Gulf to Bay Boulevard (State Road 60) and Belcher Road. Three alternatives were evaluated, including no build, an “at-grade” option and an overpass option. Only the overpass option improved the level of service and it was cost prohibitive. A fourth idea includes elimination of left turns and use of “Michigan U-turns”, which wasn’t well received. More information is expected in the future.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.