Transforming Tampa Bay: Hey, we're walkin' here!

click to enlarge The first leg of Tampa’s Green Spine creates a concrete separation between drivers and cyclists. - linda saul-sena
linda saul-sena
The first leg of Tampa’s Green Spine creates a concrete separation between drivers and cyclists.

Quiz: Guess how much money out of the city’s $850 million 2016 budget was allocated for new sidewalks in Tampa (the city ranked #2 deadliest for pedestrians in the US)?
Answer: $0.

This direct quote from Walk Bike Tampa’s Facebook page sums up the challenge faced by local folks trying to get around safely. Fortunately, a group of energized citizens is stepping up to change the current reality.

Organized in August, this fledgling organization has ambitious goals. Their slogan “Connected Streets for a Livable City” states their vision, and the executive director, Hannah Strom, insists that the time is now.

“Tampa is a first-rate city but we have third world infrastructure for walking and biking. We have sidewalks 1-2 miles apart from each other. The message sent from our infrastructure is ‘You’re on your own.’”

Hannah, a mother of young children, moved from Denver to South Tampa in 2012. I met her at a transportation meeting when she was angry that she couldn’t safely cross Bayshore Boulevard with her kids.

“My frustration was that I couldn’t walk with a stroller to school or lunch or the park. Why is this city so dangerous for pedestrians? I want to help change this. I’ve lived in other cities that do this better. It’s our black eye.”

An attorney by training and a natural leader, Strom has put together a strong organization of professionals determined to improve Tampa now. Board members include President Jackie Toledo, a transportation engineer and mother of five, Lauren Campbell, Jeff Zampitella, Christine Acosta, Kevin O’Hare, Vanessa Neal, Vance Arnett, Elizabeth Corwin and Moises Hernandez.

“Our goal is that every address in Tampa should be connected to every other address safely by foot or bike. What’s been missing in Tampa is a true grassroots advocacy and education organization, so we started Walk Bike Tampa. We reject the idea that this will take 30 years. We need safe crosswalks and protected bike lanes. Three inches of paint on a 40-mile-an-hour road does not create a community bike lane... Most of ours fail that test.”

Speaking of safety, 12 American cities have adopted “Vision Zero,” an internationally lauded goal of no fatalities. Vision Zero challenges transportation designers to develop safe designs with real people in mind — drivers who are not careful and pedestrians who cross mid-block.

Walk Bike Tampa promoted this program to local government, and Lisa Montelione from Tampa City Council, Sandy Murman from the Hillsborough County Commission and Cindy Stuart from the School Board are all planning to take the issue before their respective boards for adoption in December.

Vision Zero’s goal is to tolerate NO loss of life. So far this year there have been 43 pedestrian and biking fatalities in Hillsborough County.

Our community is caught up in a cycle of blaming the pedestrian. We ask, “Were they in the crosswalk?” instead of addressing the key issues: How do we design roads that consider human fallibility? Lighting? Left turns? We could lower our speed limits!

Portland built its entire walk/bike infrastructure for the cost of one highway interchange. The U.S. Surgeon General has put out a call for people to start walking, and AARP and the World Health Organization joined in the chorus.

With our mild climate and appalling statistics as a dangerous state for cyclists, Florida seems a likely place to embrace walk/bike concepts, but we spend much less than 1 percent of our $9.3 billion transportation budget on non-motorized transportation. Surely we can smarten up and shift our priorities.

We have a few bright spots. The first leg of Tampa’s Green Spine, the section from East Cass to the Hillsborough River, is complete, offering a real concrete separation between motorists and bikes and walkers.

Chuck Harris, a businessperson and avid bicyclist, sums up his thoughts. ”Today, it is a challenge to safely bike from my home on Davis Islands to any destination in South Tampa. I must navigate a conglomeration of busy roads, sidewalks, narrow unprotected bike lanes and pedestrian areas. Investments in infrastructure and education of motorists are necessary to create a bike-friendly environment that will encourage more people to bike rather than drive.”

As Walk Bike Tampa advocates, “Tampa’s dangerous walk/bike infrastructure is simply unacceptable. Walk Bike Tampa is determined to work with neighborhoods and city leaders to safely connect our neighborhoods and move our city from ‘worst’ to ‘first.’”

Beginning Friday, November 20, you can join this grassroots group as a member by visiting their website and signing up.

“Vision Zero MUST be embraced by our leaders. Our mayor and city council need to adopt this philosophical shift and then invest differently,” exhorts board member Jeff Zampitella.

What are we waiting for?

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