The signs, a bright, guilt-inducing red, sprouted overnight like mushrooms along the grassy curbs of my regular shortcut through an old Tampa neighborhood.
Please, they implore me and the other cut-through drivers behind me: DRIVE LIKE YOUR KIDS LIVE HERE.
City streets, even very residential ones like Ridgewood Avenue where kids play, dogs get walked and neighbors are out being neighborly, are open for all of us to drive. Of course. This town's prettiest street in fancier South Tampa, the winding waterfront Bayshore Boulevard, belongs no more to the residents of the mansions along it than to the barefoot guy sitting on the seawall watching the boats go by.
But here is the problem for the 400 souls of Ridgewood Park, a tidy triangle of a working-class neighborhood bordered by the Hillsborough River and conveniently close to downtown (only on its less tony north side):
Too many of us have discovered this is an easy way to avoid the wider, busier through street, N Boulevard, and that tedious light at Columbus Drive. Plus, this neighborhood's bungalows, shady oaks, green spaces and gentle slope to the river are way prettier. So we cut through.
Some of us apparently cut through too fast. A traffic study showed speeders went an average of 9 mph over the posted 25-mph limit.
Which should be enough for the city to put in speed tables — right?
Except there are 70 other spots around Tampa awaiting speed tables at which motorists go even faster. And Tuesday, a city official said Tampa Fire Rescue had concerns about emergency access there, so speed tables are not expected any time soon.
Stacey Warder, president of the Ridgewood Park Crime Prevention and Civic Association, says drivers are welcome, just not speeders. For 10 years they've been trying to get any kind of traffic calming, but so far not "one sign, one stripe, one crosswalk." A left-turn arrow at that long light some drivers use their neighborhood to avoid — how expensive could that be?
Ridgewood Park's Facebook page — "crime prevention, education, beautification, community building, cleaning & greening" — includes news of the good grade the elementary school got and photos of three screech owls released here. A chili cook-off is in the works.
"We have five new babies born in this neighborhood this year," Warder says. "We want to make it safe."
She also says the city has been good to them in other ways, like streetlights to be installed through the Bright Lights, Safe Nights program. It took 11 years, but they got two sidewalks. One day the Riverwalk currently winding through downtown will reach here, too.
So here's some good news for an urban community with a big city growing up around it: The Heights development across the street, the one that stalled in a flailing economy we are coming out of, includes $200,000 in "transportation mitigation" for Ridgewood streets. That will help. The city plans to share the speeding concerns with Tampa police.
So for now, they have those (literally) grass roots signs. Individual residents and the civic association bought 18 of them at $10 a pop, trying to appeal to us cut-through commuters on the most neighborly level as we ride through on our way to somewhere else.