TAMPA — Nearly a year after a young mother was killed as she pushed a stroller down a dark East Tampa street, Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Tuesday announced an initiative to add 8,400 new streetlights in the city over the next five years.
Tampa officials plan to spend $2.2 million, increasing the total number of streetlights nearly 30 percent above the current total of 30,000.
Buckhorn's "Bright Lights, Safe Nights" program takes on a problem that outraged residents after the death of Monica Alvarez. It also addresses one of the 34 campaign promises tracked by the Buck-O-Meter, a project of PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times.
During his run for mayor, Buckhorn promised to work with Tampa Electric Co. to conduct a citywide lighting assessment to determine where streetlights need to be updated, repaired or replaced.
As part of the new program, announced jointly with TECO, the city's transportation division will conduct an annual citywide inventory of streetlights. Lights that are dim will be replaced. Tree branches that block lights will be trimmed.
New lights will be installed starting in January and will be targeted in areas that have higher rates of crime and car crashes, as well as in the city's designated community redevelopment areas: East Tampa, Ybor City, Tampa Heights, Drew Park, Central Park, the Channel District and downtown.
Buckhorn announced the program about a mile from the East Tampa street where Alvarez, 27 and six months pregnant, was struck from behind by a car as she and a friend pushed their baby girls in strollers down a darkened 43rd Street near Hillsborough Avenue. Her son Angel was delivered prematurely by emergency caesarean section, but he lived less than an hour.
After the accident, TECO put a new light on an existing pole and city officials worked to add sidewalks to 43rd Street.
"We've had a number of pedestrian fatalities that have occurred at intersections and on streets in our community where perhaps the lights could have been stronger, the lights could have been brighter, or there could have been more lights," Buckhorn said. "Those young moms who are walking on our sidewalks and crossing our streets will now have streets that are well-lit, that are safer, so we won't have to read stories about those fatalities."
East Tampa community leaders welcomed the program, saying it would make the area safer.
"It's going to create neighborhoods where our elderly people can feel free to walk, even at night," said the Rev. T.W. Jenkins, pastor of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
That's the idea, Buckhorn said.
"When you light up a community, you deter the criminal element from hanging out on the corners, from selling drugs," he said. "When we turn the lights on them, they're going to run, and (the Tampa Police Department) is going to be following them."
When East Tampa neighborhoods ranked their priorities several years ago, "the majority of reports that we received came back saying, 'We want improved street lighting,' " said City Council member Frank Reddick, who represents the area.
"You just don't know how much this means to these neighborhoods," he said. "It means a lot when you can stand outside on a cool night and not be frightened."
As a candidate, Buckhorn promised to work with TECO to complete a citywide assessment to determine where lights need to be repaired or replaced. With the "Bright Lights, Safe Nights" initiative, that assessment will take place, and the city will spend $2.2 million over the next five years to eliminate dark pockets in the city. We rate this Promise Kept.