BY WATSON HAYNES, Guest Columnist
ST. PETERSBURG – As more and more Pinellas County residents learn about the upcoming Greenlight Pinellas referendum, have you wondered how the improvements to the county’s transit system would impact you?
Greenlight Pinellas, which will come before voters for approval on Nov. 4, is a plan to increase bus service in the county by 65 percent while also creating a light rail system from St. Petersburg to Gateway to Clearwater.
And even if you don’t plan on regularly using the improved transit system yourself, these transportation improvements would spur significant economic growth and development that will benefit the entire County.
With that in mind, here are four ways Greenlight Pinellas would improve Pinellas from an economic development standpoint:
People looking for jobs will have access to a wider range of opportunities.
Increasing bus service by 65 percent will open up opportunities for people who can’t depend on the current bus system to get to work.
A big challenge we’re seeing right now is a lack of transportation options. Currently, buses aren’t running frequently enough or late enough in the day to adequately accommodate getting to work and back. In fact, for some, it’s easier to walk or ride a bicycle to work rather than trying to catch a bus.
This can be a real difficulty for the unemployed and causes some not to pursue jobs that are any significant distance from them. For example, someone living in South St. Petersburg might have trouble getting to a job in North County with the current system, but that situation would be vastly improved after Greenlight’s transportation improvements become a reality.
Increased transportation will also help those already working.
Even if someone is employed and has a car, an expanded bus system may be appealing as a way to get to work. A family with a limited income might not have enough money for a second car, for example, so having more public transportation options could make a big impact.
Millennials are another key group to keep in mind. Young professionals entering the workforce tend to be drawn to areas with strong transportation systems. This group is less interested in driving, and more interested in having the ability to ride a train or bus to get to their destination.
Rail stops can attract major redevelopment opportunities.
Not only would a new rail system expand transportation options, it would also transform the neighborhoods surrounding the stops. At each stop on the rail line, there would be potential for major growth and redevelopment.
In other U.S. cities, areas around rail stops have become thriving walkable environments with apartments, condos, stores and restaurants, similar to what is happening in downtown St. Petersburg.
People like the idea of living near a rail stop because of the convenience a rail system can offer, while retailers are attracted to these areas because of the number of potential customers who pass by each day.
Saving on car expenses create opportunities for people to spend money in other ways in the community.
When people can rely on the bus or train to get to work and other destinations, funds once spent on car expenses are now available for other uses. In turn, this can result in people investing in their homes instead of on the upkeep associated with a car.
And as people make advancements financially, they spend more money in their community, whether that’s supporting local businesses or creating a more appealing place to live. Meanwhile, this can motivate others in an area to improve their situations, causing a chain reaction that can start to improve an entire community.