Running straight through some of Tampa's poorest neighborhoods is one of its most dangerous streets.
Stretching east from Interstate 275, Hillsborough Avenue is a jumble of crumbling motels and fenced car lots, pawnshops and payday lenders, apartments and strip malls and, just south, a busy high school.
E Hillsborough Avenue may not be pretty, but it is thriving, humming, not just with cars and rumbling trucks but also pedestrians and bicyclists, people coming and going and living their lives.
The stories are painful but not new: Between 2008 and 2012, there were 21 bicycle- and pedestrian-related crashes on a short stretch of Hillsborough. Last month, two sisters trying to cross on their way to Middleton High before dawn — and not at the crosswalk — were hit by a car, and one of them died from her injuries. In 2011 it was another student. A week ago, a young man was hit on Hillsborough and was critically injured.
Enough, the Tampa City Council member who represents these neighborhoods told reporters this week at a parking lot news conference — just across the street from a wilted pink bouquet on the roadside. Norma Velasquez-Cabrera was 15 when she died. Her little sister survived.
Council member Frank Reddick stood in front of the cameras to say he wanted — no, demanded — change for people who live here. He and other politicians and supporters wanted a crosswalk in the logical spot where people go from apartments on one side of Hillsborough to the sprawling shopping center anchored by a Winn-Dixie grocery store on the other.
Yes, absolutely, people should cross busy roads at marked crosswalks only, even inconvenient ones that take them blocks out of their way. Yes, educating people on this — teenagers in particular when you're talking proximity to school — is a critical factor that comes up each time we mark another injury, another death.
But apartments are on one side and a big shopping center and the high school beyond it are on the other. And sometimes people — teenagers, in particular — cross where they shouldn't. How many have to die before we make practical and concrete changes?
Across town in South Tampa sits Plant High School on not-as-busy-but-still-busy S Dale Mabry Highway. Across the street is a Steak 'n Shake, big for lunchtime fries and patty melts, and a sub shop and a pizza joint, among other establishments.
And between them and a school that has educated many prominent and affluent citizens of Tampa is both a traffic light and a marked crosswalk for pedestrians. As there should be. Otherwise, it wouldn't be safe.
At that parking lot news conference, joined by grieving parents, Reddick called out state road officials and the city. (Notably, he made a similar stand for equal treatment — what he calls this community's "piece of the apple" — that helped reopen a city pool in east Tampa last summer.)
So here is good news about making noise and demanding change.
Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation and assorted public officials had a big meeting. A marked crosswalk and traffic signal are planned for that trouble-plagued stretch of E Hillsborough Avenue. It's more than a year away, but it's a start — and a better message about what matters in this city, no matter where in this city you live.