Lose parking lots and put up some paradise
A plan of function and design splashed with green is afoot in downtown Tampa - a greenway in the shade of the elevated Selmon Crosstown Expressway.
The vision is for pedestrian-friendly spaces, which would eliminate 115 of the 873 parking spaces beneath the toll road.
Other cities are doing it, including Boston, which built the Rose Kennedy Greenway where Interstate 93 used to be, before the highway was put underground in the Big Dig project.
Minneapolis has the Midtown Greenway, a 5.5-mile stretch through downtown along an old rail line.
The proposed greenway will meander around parking lots, providing a continuous path - almost a mile long - for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Someday, planners envision a connection to a larger citywide trail network that would include the Tampa Riverwalk, the Meridian Avenue greenway and Bayshore Boulevard.
With a growing downtown condominium population, space for pedestrian traffic would be a good fit for land beneath the Selmon Crosstown Expressway, planners said.
Now, much of the space is devoted to parking.
Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, said parking spaces won't be missed.
Downtown parking garages have 22,000 spaces, and there's room for 2,000 parked vehicles along city streets, she said.
"We think the parking can be worked out," she said.
The lost parking spaces, she said, "can be absorbed other places."
The partnership is squarely behind the project, she said.
"I haven't heard any negative comments about this," Kress said. "It's something we started dreaming about a couple years ago, and that it's happening is a dream come true."
She said the southern end of downtown is pocked with vacant land and "could use some green space. This could really make an impact there. It could even spur some economic development."
Future plans call for extending the Selmon greenway to 22nd Street east of downtown.
Planners said the greenway will have benches, water fountains and outdoor exercise equipment. The space will be lit for aesthetics and safety.
"The greenway will help to improve the overall quality of life of downtown residents, employees and visitors," a proposal said.
The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization is conducting the $50,000 feasibility study for the project, which at first focuses on the stretch from the Hillsborough River to Meridian Avenue.
An open house on the project is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 18 at Union Station, 601 N. Nebraska Ave.
In an executive summary, planner Lisa Silva said, "It is a unique opportunity to include a walking/cycling facility in a highway reconstruction project."