Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Students, state and local officials study Hillsborough Avenue safety issues


The pedestrian signal directed Rudy Umbs and his entourage to cross Hillsborough Avenue. But drivers didn't care.

"Well, this lady is not going to let us go," said Umbs, as a car turned right onto Hillsborough, in front of 15 pedestrians wearing reflective vests.

"Neither is this one! Or this one!"

By the time cars stopped turning, the walk signal at Hillsborough Avenue and N 22nd Street had started the countdown to stop. The walkers had to wait.

"A mass of us can't get across the street!" Umbs said. "That's one of the biggest threats here in Tampa: people not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalks."

Umbs, who retired as the Federal Highway Administration's chief safety engineer, was a tour guide with an unusual purpose: to point out how bad the roads, drivers and pedestrians are in the Tampa Bay area.

On a short stretch of Hillsborough Avenue, in less than an hour, Tampa proved his point.

An electrical box lay broken in the grass after getting smacked by a car. A bus, stopped at a dropoff located too close to the intersection, clogged traffic. A man in a dark sweat shirt talked to himself and crossed against the signal.

Umbs' audience, which included 10 Middleton High School students, state and city officials and other traffic experts, saw daily life on the street in a new light.

"I think people, every day, they just get used to this," said Andre Steadman, 16, a junior at Middleton.

Wednesday's event, called a "road safety audit," was sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation, the National Organizations for Youth Safety and the American Traffic Safety Services Foundation.

Why Middleton High School students? Just a few blocks east, near the Sanwa Farmer's Market, Middleton freshman Shenika Davis was hit and killed as she walked to school in October.

Along the tour Wednesday, Umbs spoke over the din of traffic. He pointed to a sidewalk that ended prematurely. He noted the absence of a raised surface for blind people near a crosswalk. He talked about the tire marks that showed motorists were turning too close to the sidewalk and about the road signs placed too far along the street to benefit drivers.

The group watched a pedestrian, an overweight woman leaning on a walker and moving very slowly. She was only about 15 feet from the crosswalk at N 22nd Street, but she inched south across Hillsborough Avenue on her own.

Umbs realized her reasoning: The woman needed to cross Hillsborough Avenue, but there was no place for her to push her walker without hiking it over the sidewalk. So she picked a spot midblock where a business' driveway acted as a ramp.

The group headed east on Hillsborough, past Burger King and Delicious Wings and Fun Lan drive-in and Winn-Dixie and Checks Cashed, until they stopped at a metal cross shrouded in red and pink flowers.

It was the scene of Shenika's death.

The distance between two marked crosswalks, at N 22nd Street and N 30th Street, is a quarter of a mile. Like many pedestrians, Shenika decided to cross midblock.

Peter Hsu, a safety engineer for the Florida DOT's district office, said the state looked into putting in a new crosswalk. But the traffic patterns and pedestrian numbers did not justify the addition, he said.

State officials expect to install new blinking pedestrian signs by the summer.

The Middleton students grew quiet as they studied the memorial.

Chrishonta Bell, 15, said she walks to school but sticks to the sidewalks. "I don't even like crossing the street anymore," she said.

After a few minutes, the students boarded a bus headed for the Tampa Convention Center to learn more about roadway safety at the American Traffic Safety Services Association's annual meeting.

On the other side of Hillsborough Avenue, a woman on the sidewalk shuffled west. In her arms, she held a baby. Traffic roared by.

Reach Jodie Tillman at or (813) 226-3374.

Students, state and local officials study Hillsborough Avenue safety issues 02/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 11:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pitching on no rest backfires for Erasmo Ramirez, Rays

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — After battling through a 61/2-hour affair Sunday in Minnesota that was the second-longest game in franchise history, Rays officials were quick to decide that even though Erasmo Ramirez had just worked the 15th and final inning, they would stick with him to start Monday's game in Texas.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers, comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  2. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  3. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]
  4. What major sporting event could Tampa Bay land next?

    Lightning Strikes

    We are on quite a roll as a community. First, we had a Super Bowl drop from the storm clouds into our lap. It just reaffirms the fact that Tampa Bay is great at lap. And Monday it became official: Next year's NHL All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. The best in the world will be here to shoot and score. And …

    MVP Wayne Gretzky is congratulated at the 1999 NHL All-Star game, the last time the event was in Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times file]
  5. How the 2018 NHL All-Star Game reflects Jeff Vinik's vision for Tampa

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There were several reasons the NHL announced Monday that Tampa will host the 2018 All-Star Game on Jan. 28.

    This was the  logo for the 1999 NHL All-Star game played Sunday, Jan 24, 1999 at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo)