TAMPA — Work will begin this summer to rebuild a busy, mile-long stretch of Bay to Bay Boulevard, but without the bicycle lanes that the city of Tampa appeared to be leaning toward.
Instead, the city ended a divisive debate last week by deciding that traffic flow takes precedence over its campaign to add bicycle lanes citywide — 90 miles of which have been created under the tenure of Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Tampa will recommend that when Hillsborough County begins work on Bay to Bay, from Bayshore Boulevard west to Dale Mabry Highway, it retains four traffic lanes along the stretch rather than reducing it to three lanes and adding two bicycle lanes. The county has indicated it would follow whatever the city recommended.
The decision was hailed as realistic give the volume of vehicle traffic along the stretch and derided for ignoring an engineering study that concluded the lane reduction would improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists without adversely affecting the 18,000 vehicles using the roadway daily.
Just a month ago, it appeared the city was leaning toward accepting the conclusion of the study.
But in a news release last week, Buckhorn said, "After much consideration it is our belief that the portion of Bay to Bay ... was not best suited for the addition of bike lanes and the reduction of the number of lanes of traffic."
Parallel streets in adjacent neighborhoods are better suited for cyclists without creating a "major disruption of a very busy thoroughfare," Buckhorn said.
Bryan Crino, a former board member with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority who operates an investment business along the stretch of Bay to Bay, welcomed the mayor’s announcement.
"I am all about alternative transportation, but cars have to have a place to go, too," Crino said. "We have to accommodate thoroughfares."
He added, "There has been a lack of political courage to tell people that their roads are going to have to have traffic."
But nearby resident Whit Remer said younger families there were looking forward to the traffic-calming affects from reducing the traffic lanes.
"It was a step in the right direction," Remer said. "This decision is a potential disaster. The engineers were telling the mayor the best way the roadway should be designed."
Buckhorn’s decision was a "huge disappointment" to Christina Acosta, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Walk Bike Tampa.
"We are befuddled as to why the city didn’t opt to make Bay to Bay better and safer," Acosta said. "This was supposed to be about creating a neighborhood environment where small businesses can thrive."
She cited a 2016 study by Smart Growth America that rated Tampa Bay No. 7 on a list of metropolitan areas with the worst safety record for pedestrians.
Kyle Simon, a Palma Ceia resident and Walk Bike Tampa board member, is asking the city to reconsider its decision.
The alternative plan had called for two through traffic lanes and a two-way left turn lane along Bay to Bay from MacDill Avenue to Dale Mabry to create space for two buffered bike lanes.
Still, the city said, the project — valued at just under $1 million — will make the stretch safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
First, the project will reduce the width of the four traffic lanes, creating a buffer of up to two feet between the outside lane and sidewalks that will "encourage adherence" to the 35 mph speed limit.
In addition, the city said, travel will be safer for bicyclists and pedestrians with the addition of a second left turn lane at Bayshore Boulevard and elimination of sidewalk gaps on the south side of Bay to Bay at the CSX railway crossing and near South Ysabella Avenue.
The focus of the project now, though, is to alleviate congestion along Bay to Bay Boulevard, in part through improvements to the Selmon Expressway entrance and the intersection with Bayshore Boulevard.
Here are other highlights of the work:
• Reconfiguring the road at MacDill Avenue to create a new left-turn lane for the Selmon Expressway on-ramp.
• Installation of a traffic light regulating northbound traffic on Bayshore Boulevard at the Bay to Bay intersection. Traffic now flows straight through the intersection.
• Develop a plan with TECO to remove or relocate power poles along the Bay to Bay sidewalk.
Contact Sheila Estrada at [email protected]