TAMPA — Jeannette King Flom has used a bicycle as her main mode of transport for 22 years.
Navigating the streets of South Tampa with her Shih Tzu in the bike's basket always felt fairly safe, though in the past five years she has noticed some scary trends.
Text-messaging at the wheel. Traffic jams. Drivers trying to beat lights and cut through side streets.
This year, her fears were realized: Flom was struck by a woman in an SUV as she crossed Empedrado Street at MacDill Avenue.
It may be a sign of the times. As Tampa grows, city planners, transportation officials and police are constantly analyzing safety when there are more "cars co-mingling with bikes co-mingling with pedestrians," said police Maj. John Bennett, who oversees traffic enforcement downtown and in surrounding areas.
Last year, 10 pedestrians and three bicyclists were struck and killed on city streets. Another 204 were injured. In most of the cases, Bennett said, the walker or cyclist might have prevented the accident by following the rules of the road or using crosswalks.
"You're never going to win against a car," he said. "Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong."
While it appears that there are more opportunities for cars and people to collide in dense areas like downtown, accidents are actually more likely to happen in places where there is more distance between crosswalks, such as on Nebraska and Hillsborough avenues. People often take their chances and dart across the street on foot or bike despite oncoming traffic, Bennett said.
Still, downtown has its dangers, and the Tampa Downtown Partnership often works with the city to identify ways to make the grid system more walkable.
"The sidewalks we have are prolific, but there's often a lot of stuff packed onto a narrow sidewalk, like utility boxes and trees," said Karen Kress, the partnership's transportation director.
"And it doesn't help that Kennedy Boulevard (which cuts through the middle of downtown) is a designated truck route."
The partnership is working on designing a walkable tour of downtown and hopes to eventually find money in its budget to install better "way finding signs" than the old blue ones that give vague directions to the Convention Center and courthouse.
It would be wonderful to see more walkers rather than cars downtown, Kress said. But people may be leery of navigating city streets without a car, and are often reminded why.
Last month, a surveillance video caught a pickup truck hitting and killing a man in a motorized wheelchair who was following traffic rules on Main Street near Rome Avenue. The images from the collision played over and over in the news until the driver turned himself in.
An 80-year-old woman was hit and killed by a BMW while crossing Bruce B. Downs Boulevard (a city road) in January.
A Davis Islands newspaper still runs a monthly reminder about the unsolved hit-and-run death of 28-year-old Christine Hodill, who was struck crossing Cleveland Street on Feb. 28 while walking home from a bar.
The number of hit pedestrians is actually down 66 percent this year, compared to the same time last year, Bennett said. But city officials and police say city streets could still be a lot safer for both walkers and bikers.
"We try to focus on educating people," he said. "It's not all about writing tickets. It's how we make the environment more friendly for everyone who uses the roads."
As for Flom, her dog was sent flying into the street (but is okay). Her left leg and eye were bruised. The driver sped away. Police have made no arrests in the case.
"I've had so many (bike-riding) friends who have had this kind of thing happen to them," said Flom, an aerobics instructor. "I think we lost that edge of (being) lovely little Tampa. Now it's a big city."
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)