Jul 26, 2022 - News

Lessons from a long walk across Tampa Bay

Walking on the shoulder of the Gandy Bridge.
Walking acorss the Gandy Bridge. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

I walked from Seminole Heights to Treasure Island with my daughter and her friends on Monday — about 39 miles across Tampa Bay — and I know two things:

  • We live in a beautiful place to take a long walk, and we live in an incredibly dangerous place to be a pedestrian.

Yes, but: Our cities are changing, slowly but surely, and reorienting to people-focused streets.

Driving the news: It's hard to notice from the car, and infrastructure change is slow. But walk across Tampa Bay and it's clear as day.

  • This is what we call "shoe-leather reporting."

Flashback: Ten years ago, as part of an experiment, I walked from my house in Tampa to downtown St. Pete and back in a day to see what I could learn about how to stay alive in one of the most dangerous places to take a walk in America.

  • The Thoreau Experiment, I called it. I nearly got killed. And many dozens of you wrote to me of your own difficulties walking in a region built for cars.

What's new: So much has changed since that last walk. Alana Brasier and Brandie Miklus with Tampa's Mobility Department helped me recall the big projects in the past decade.

  • Bike lanes on Platt and Cleveland.
  • Bike boulevards down Central, Ola and Gray.
  • Two cycle tracks in downtown Tampa — Jackson and Cass, known as the Green Spine.
  • The Tampa Riverwalk didn't exist as we know it.
  • Bayshore Boulevard got bike lanes and flashing pedestrian crossings.
  • The Selmon Greenway was built under the Selmon Expressway.
  • The Selmon Expressway was elevated over Gandy Boulevard, and the city is working on trail improvements from Westshore to the park near the bridge.

And that's just on the Tampa side.

Kids sit by the water
Ben's walking companions look south to St. Pete from Gandy Beach. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios
St. Pete's Central Avenue is one of the South's coolest streets
Walkers regroup on pink picnic tables.
The walkers regroup at Love Food Central. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Ten years ago, a walk down St. Pete's main thoroughfare would have meant sauntering past a slew of empty storefronts.

  • Not true today.

We picked up Selene and headed south for lunch at Love Food Central.

  • In 2012, Haslam's Books seemed like the only business west of Tropicana Field. The neighborhood, now called the Edge, was mostly empty.

Now, the Edge is home to 1,500 residents and 130 businesses.

  • And the neighboring Grand Central District is home to over 450 locally owned independent businesses — from restaurants and bars to art galleries and wellness providers.
We saw spectacular natural things
A gif of swimming sting rays.
A fever of rays swim south of the Gandy Bridge. Video: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Coming over the Gandy Bridge, we caught this fever of sting rays to the south — an astonishing thing to behold. Watch.

  • The column stretched nearly a quarter mile. If I had to guess, I'd say there were 5,000 rays.

And when we hit the Intracoastal at Treasure Island, Selene saw her very first manatee, and tried to call to it in manatee language.

Of note: We smelled none of the pungent red-tide odors so common for the past few summers, and saw no signs of dead fish.

One parting shot
Selene and Ben smiling on the beach.
We made it. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Thanks for walking with us. See y'all out there.

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