UNIVERSITY AREA — After two decades of waiting, community leaders and residents are welcoming improvements to one of the county's most dangerous thoroughfares for pedestrians.
During a ceremony this week, officials hailed the latest incarnation of N 22nd Street — or at least the stretch from Fletcher Avenue to Bearss Avenue.
The $7.9 million project that began in 2007 features landscaping, bike lanes, speed humps, aesthetic lighting, curbs, sidewalks and special bus lanes at stops to pick up and drop off riders without impeding traffic.
Officials see it as one piece of the puzzle to improve the lives of residents in a part of town that some call "Suitcase City" because of its transient population.
State Sen. Victor Crist has championed the project for nearly 20 years.
"No one can believe the kind of change that has taken place here in two decades," Crist said to a crowd of about 100 residents who attended the project's ceremonial ribbon-cutting Monday. "This is just the beginning of the change that is coming tomorrow."
A second phase of the beautification project will include similar improvements and will be divided into two segments. The first is from 131st Avenue to University Mall, which is expected to begin sometime in 2010. The other segment, from Fletcher to E 131st Avenue, will be completed as money to acquire land along the road becomes available, said Steve Valdez, a spokesman for the Hillsborough public works department.
At the end of Monday's dedication, a bus took residents on a tour of facilities that have been built along 22nd in the past 15 years, including the Bowers Whitley Career Center, University Community Resource Center and Muller Magnet Elementary School. About $80 million in taxpayer money was poured into the area to enhance opportunities for people in the community.
The road, a main artery for the University Area community, was envisioned as key to revitalizing the area.
Jessica Romeu has lived in the surrounding neighborhood since 1998. Her daughter Janice Plaza-Romeu goes to nearby Muller Magnet Elementary and helped cut the ribbon.
Romeu, 25, was happy to see so many people from the community come together. "I see a big improvement over the years," she said.
The road has a dangerous track record.
Ten years go, on Nov. 9, 1999, Hailey Peacock, 3, was run over and killed as she tried to cross the street with her mother at the intersection of E 140th Avenue.
In 2004, Jennifer Porter hit four children on N 22nd Street near E 142nd Avenue. Bryant Wilkins, 13, and his 3-year-old brother, Durontae Caldwell, were killed in the accident.
Two others have been killed in the past four years along the road.
Valdez said the area has a high number of pedestrian accidents because of the number of people using the sidewalks.
"Traffic control devices are there to make people mindful and to make people think and slow down," Valdez said. "Are they going to find ways around it? Yes. But that is where enforcement comes in."
Although officials say the road's safety has improved with reconstruction, resident Karen Howe still sees potential dangers.
Howe, 41, has lived across the street from the community center for about six years. Just as the handful of community leaders and residents were going to cut the ribbon, Howe shouted from her porch:
"Make them slow down," she said, referring to the passing traffic. "Make them slow down."
Howe said later that even with the road improvements, including speed humps, drivers still speed down the street.
The traffic calming devices are ineffective on the 25 mph road, she said, adding that more enforcement and bigger speed bumps are needed.
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.