If Mark Sharpe's hopes are realized, Fowler Avenue will one day turn green.
Grassy medians and wider shoulders with lots of trees, buffered bike lanes and wider sidewalks for walkers and joggers would make over what he calls the "barren wasteland'' of asphalt, the main thoroughfare through the 19-square-mile swath of North Tampa that Sharpe and his team want to revitalize.
An engineering firm has translated their vision into a design concept that has been shared with the Florida Department of Transportation, which would make the decision on any changes to the road.
When people drive along Fowler, Sharpe said, they're headed toward one of the top research universities in the nation, the University of South Florida; one of the top cancer institutes in the world, Moffitt Cancer Center; one of the most recognized theme parks in the world, Busch Gardens; and the fourth busiest VA hospital in the nation.
"Fowler Avenue ought to be reflective of that. We see it as an innovation gateway.''
The former Hillsborough County Commissioner is executive director of Tampa Innovation Alliance, a public and private effort to turn the crime-ridden areas around USF into an inviting enclave that attracts businesses and provides opportunities to residents.
"We aren't capturing the economic value of the area. We're capturing a fraction of it,'' said Sharpe, whose alliance district is bordered by Bearss Avenue, Busch Boulevard, Interstate 75 and Interstate 275.
Making it easier for people to leave their offices and homes for short trips, and easier for them to reach the businesses, is a key to bringing the area back, he said.
"Over time, we'd like to see several of the lanes on Fowler Avenue designated for your high occupancy vehicles, your automated vehicles, buses and such. We would encourage people to use transit by designating two lanes. We'd like to. Of course, that's just a concept; we're not anywhere close to that.''
The plan is for a transformed Fowler Avenue that reflects a different travel pattern from today's.
In the concept design by Sam Schwartz Engineering, Fowler would be reduced from eight to six lanes between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and 56th Street, with space between the bike paths and travel lanes and wide shoulders to cut the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross Fowler.
Mid-block crossings would accommodate pedestrians in the busier sections, said Jeffrey Trim, project manager with the engineering firm.
Green space would be expanded and travel lanes narrowed to slow traffic. The sidewalks would be widened from 5 feet to 8 feet on the south side and 12 feet on the north side. The effort is to encourage more walkers, joggers, bike riders and public transportation users.
Public transportation today falls short of the need in Hillsborough County, he said.
"We need approximately 500 to 600 buses of all different sizes. We have 170 to 180 buses."
Within the next decade, Sharpe predicts, automated, driverless vehicles will carry paying customers along the public transit lanes.
It takes too much time and effort now for people who work in the area to leave their buildings, walk to their cars and drive somewhere to have lunch or run errands, Sharpe said.
A reconfigured Fowler Avenue and adequate public transit would free up people for short trips, making it easier to get to businesses along the route.
Any changes to Fowler must be okayed by the Florida Department of Transportation. Agency officials have seen the concept but haven't yet voiced any opinions on it, Trim said.
"We're still early in the process of getting feedback.''
It's clear to Sharpe that something has to be done.
"This is untenable, what we currently have. It's not safe. It's one of the most dangerous roads in the nation. It's not conducive to business development.''
Contact Philip Morgan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.