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Tampa officials say making Busch Boulevard safer is urgent

TAMPA — Haunted by the death of an 8-year-old girl, the City Council pleaded Thursday with transportation officials for a more urgent approach to making Busch Boulevard safer for pedestrians.

"I have seen too many of these," council member Frank Reddick said. "It's good to educate, but it's also good to put something in place that would prevent these tragedies from happening."

The latest was Feb. 3, when Jayla Shubbar was hit by a sport utility vehicle while trying to cross Busch Boulevard to go to a convenience store with her 12-year-old sister.

Local and state officials say they have worked to make Busch safer, filling in gaps in sidewalks, making crosswalks more visible and installing pedestrian count-down signals. But a big problem remains. Busch is a six-lane road with fast-moving traffic and stretches as long as half a mile where there are no crosswalks at all — so pedestrians cross in the middle of blocks.

"People are crossing at all different locations," said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for the Florida Department of Transportation district that includes Tampa.

Tampa police said they did not plan to file charges against the driver who struck Jayla.

From 2007 to 2012, the state reported 18 crashes — two of them fatal — involving pedestrians in the 1-mile stretch of Busch where Jayla was struck. In 14 of those cases, the pedestrian was crossing in the middle of the block.

So how about lowering the posted 45 mph speed limit on Busch? the council asked.

When it comes to reducing speeds, "this is a hard discussion, because there's not going to be a good answer or a quick fix that will solve the issue at hand, which is the number of pedestrian fatalities in this region," Hunt said. "You cannot go out and arbitrarily lower speed limits, because people don't follow that."

So council members began brainstorming.

How about roundabouts? On a recent trip to Cincinnati, council member Harry Cohen said he saw an entire crosswalk light up when he pushed a walk button. In Redington Beach, he's seen buckets with fluorescent flags in them for people to carry as they cross the street.

"I would just like to see us to think a little bit more creatively in how we can tackle these issues and not wait to be able to completely reconfigure the intersections and rebuild them," Cohen said.

One thing the FDOT is studying is putting crosswalks in the middle of blocks.

A planned mid-block crosswalk near 12th Street is expected to give pedestrians, many of them heading to a community center, a better choice about where to cross. The FDOT has said it will not be a traffic light. Instead, pedestrians will use a button to trigger flashing lights to warn motorists, who are required to yield.

Putting one of these on Busch is a big departure for the FDOT. More typical, officials said, would be for one to go on a quieter, two-lane road.

But so many people cross Busch at spots away from intersections that the FDOT is not only putting one in, but considering two more for Busch between Florida and Armenia avenues.

That's an example of the FDOT putting more of its money — $1 million on Busch Boulevard alone — toward pedestrian-friendly features, said Jean Duncan, the city's transportation manager.

"I do think there has been a culture change at the Department of the Transportation as far as their vision and their mission," she said.

Even thinking about mid-block crossings on six-lane roadways is different, though Duncan cautioned that pedestrians still have to be alert. There's always the possibility that a driver, who is not looking at a red light, will not stop for a flashing warning light.

"It doesn't take away their need to take personal responsibility to make sure it is safe to step out," she said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa officials say making Busch Boulevard safer is urgent 02/28/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 12:04am]
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