Tuesday, September 25, 2018
  • Bay Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Should Tampa shut down Bayshore Boulevard on Sundays?

Should Tampa’s iconic Bayshore Boulevard close on Sundays?

A group of supporters of the "Open Streets" concept think so. They told City Council members Thursday that closing down the waterfront street would allow families, bicyclists, the elderly, the disabled and children to enjoy a communal space free of the often busy traffic whizzing past.

"Many other cities have this program. Tampa cannot be left behind," said Danielle Joyce, a private-sector traffic engineer and a member of Walk Bike Tampa, a non-profit that seeks to widen opportunities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The group has submitted plans to city staff and asked for the city to name a liaison and determine regularly scheduled days where the street would be closed to cars and trucks.

A six-mile stretch of Bayshore would be ideal as it would connect to the Riverwalk, said Christine Acosta, the group's executive director.

"This is what we feel is most sustainable," added Joyce.

About a half-dozen speakers spoke in support of the plan.

But council members weren't thrilled with closing down Bayshore, even on Sundays.

"If you close Bayshore you're going to hear from our South Tampa people, Have some common sense," said Council chairwoman Yvonne "Yolie" Capin.

Capin suggested West Cypress Street in West Tampa, which she said would be a more “diverse’ stretch for the idea.

Supporters said Bayshore's high-profile location is ideal for the closure to draw attention to the Open Streets concept.  The boulevard's current traffic volume makes it hard for the elderly and children to enjoy the wide sidewalk along the water. A key concept of the Open Streets movement is that streets should be accessible and enjoyed by anyone between ages 8 and 80.

Open Streets, an international movement championed by Gil Penalosa, a former parks commissioner in Bogota, Colombia, advocates closing busy thoroughfares, typically on Sundays to help bring residents out into the streets for exercise, fresh air and community bonding.

The movement has spread around the world in recent years. San Francisco closes streets in various neighborhoods on different Sundays, noted council member Mike Suarez.

Closer to home, St. Petersburg has experimented with the concept, closing off part of downtown last year. Penalosa spoke to the St. Petersburg City Council in 2016.

Council member Harry Cohen said he was enthusiastic about creating more space for bikers and pedestrians, but said he wanted to hear more from staff about the viability of shutting down Bayshore.

And he told the activists to be patient, changes are coming to Bayshore. The city is planning to reduce the speed limit to 35 miles-per-hour when an additional bike lane is added between South Howard Avenue and Gandy Boulevard. The city is also planning for three or four more pedestrian-friendly mid-block crossings between Howard Avenue and downtown, he said.
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