Motorists making their way from west to east along 1st Avenue South have been encountering traffic flow disruptions, in the form of lane closures and complex, unexplained construction activity.
The concrete structures along the north side of the one-way thoroughfare – in the two left lanes – will become passenger pickup and deposit stations for SunRunner, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority express bus service connecting downtown with St. Pete Beach.
Similar stations will rise along 1st Avenue N., for the buses heading west on the SunRunner loop.
SunRunner buses are expected to begin operating in 2022, stopping at each station approximately every 15 minutes.
“We knew when they announced it last year that we were going to lose our parking, but we didn’t know how much,” said Candice Anderson, co-owner of Tombolo Books, 2153 1st Avenue S, in the Grand Central District. PSTA began construction of a station in front of the bookstore, and neighboring Black Crow Coffee, in early May.
Anderson said that PSTA representatives have been timely in answering questions from worried business owners. The curb in front of Tombolo and Black Crow was re-located, which necessitated the removal of two oak trees. “We miss the trees, but honestly we’re a little easier to see without the trees,” Anderson said.
“We’re trying to keep an attitude of compromise here. We survived the pandemic. I’m not going to let this break my stride.”
Each bus station, ultimately, will be fully landscaped.
“That’s a concern,” Anderson said. “Once it’s up, will our customers be able to find us? But that’s something that we just have to take head-on. We’re hoping to see an upside from it, in terms of people discovering us.”
Customers, Anderson added, inquire every day about the construction site outside Tombolo’s front door.
“We are philosophically pro-public transportation,” she said. “We don’t want to be NIMBY-ous. We understand everyone has to make some compromises. We know it’s good for the city to have some more public transportation.
“Another way to look at it: It’s going to run from downtown to Grand Central. People don’t have to ride it all the way to the beach. People who are coming here to see the pier, to see the museums, can jump on the bus, ride it to Grand Central, shop here and ride back.
“Our philosophy has been: Make an obstacle an opportunity. We’re looking at it that way.”