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The City of Pensacola is seeking a grant for a paved trail for walking and biking downtown

City of Pensacola

The City of Pensacola is submitting a grant to fund more than 2 miles of paved trails in downtown Pensacola as part of Florida’s SUN (Shared Use Nonmotorized) Trail program.

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“What it is, is a statewide high priority interconnected network of paved trails separated from the road that prioritize bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Caitlin Cerame, transportation planner for the City of Pensacola.

The proposed project called the Downtown Pensacola Waterfront Connector Trail, is broken down into two phases. The first phase is the construction of a 1.1-mile trail from South Tarragona Street to North 14 Avenue. The Florida Department of Transportation has already funded the design of phase one. Phase two is the design and construction of a 1.36-mile trail from South Pace Boulevard to South Tarragona St.

Both of the projects would connect to an already completed paved trail on Main Street. The cost of both projects is approximately $6.5 million altogether.

Cerame said the city looked at last year’s Active Transportation Plan Community Survey that was completed, as well as gaps in the existing SUN Trail network, to identify the project.

“We used that input along with some criteria that we developed with the Active Transportation Plan Steering Committee and essentially ranked different segments along the city of what needed trails, and Bayfront Parkway was a high priority,” said Cerame.

SUN Trail funding can only be used for paved nonmotorized multi-use trails or two-directional shared-use paths within the SUN Trail network, which was established in 2015. The money can’t be used for bike lanes on a roadway, for example. Not only would the proposed trail fill gaps in the statewide network, but it would also complement existing paths.

“We think that it's going to contribute to a high quality of living in our area because we have already the path that was built adjacent to the Chappie James Jr. Bridge, there,” said Cerame. “So, basically, this will pick up where that left off, and continue westward. And the intent is over time that we will build out this network.”

The city will find out whether one or both phases will be fully funded by the end of 2024. Phase one could begin construction soon if given the green light since the design is already funded. Cerame says projects on the SUN Trail have the opportunity to move faster than typical transportation projects.

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“The other way that this could get funded is more through the TPO (Transportation Planning Organization) process,” Cerame explained. “That has to go through a priority process and you have to wait until the top projects get funded by DOT and then you kind of slowly move up the list. And so that can take a long time to get done.”

Even for non-bicyclists, connecting the gaps of the SUN Trail promotes walkability and connects people to different transportation modes.

“In terms of first-mile and last-mile connectivity, there is a bus stop on Bayfront Parkway closer to the downtown side so someone can ride their bike to get on the bus. And then also we have the ferry system,” said Cerame. “Conceivably, you can ride down to the ferry on the trail, put your bike on the ferry, and go out to Pensacola Beach. So it's like, how can we connect all these different transportation modes is important.”

Last week, Cerame met with several bicycling advocacy groups including Bike Pensacola, Bluffline, and Ciclovía Pensacola to share details about SUN Trail project and get feedback — most of which was positive.

“Everywhere I go across the country, communities that invest in being more walkable and bikeable are thriving by doing so,” said Christian Wagley of Bike Pensacola. “Creating an urban trail network for Pensacola will especially help us retain and attract young people, who are increasingly moving to more walkable places."

Beyond the downtown connector trail, the city is looking for other ways to increase accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists. Paved trails are some of the more expensive projects, but there are other ways to keep making progress, said Cerame.

“Maybe with some of our funding, we can look at things like striping bike lanes, sidewalks that the city is actively working on, too, to fill in the sidewalk gap,” she said. “There's kind of different strategies that we look at to complete our long-term vision incrementally and different steps.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.