Thursday, April 19, 2018
Transportation

A bridge closes, and perspective shifts with the traffic

Tampa's own mini Carmageddon, the news said when the Platt Street Bridge that carries residents from the city's monied neighborhoods into downtown closed for repair. Commuters, Rejoice, said a headline when it reopened 105 days later. You could almost hear the sigh of relief from the waterfront mansions of Davis Islands to the bungalows of Hyde Park.

If you know Tampa you had to love a biting little item in La Gaceta, the English, Spanish and Italian newspaper, wondering if the closing of the Columbus Drive Bridge through West Tampa would get the same attention.

Weeks into the bridge's closing, I can tell you: It's getting it from me. And in the meantime, I'm getting a different glimpse of my city.

I live in one of those not-South Tampa neighborhoods and use the beautiful old Columbus bridge to points west: malls, the airport, the vet, and most important, Target. Some 20,0000 daily trips over that bridge across the Hillsborough River are now rerouted — not the 34,000 Platt boasts, but not a trickle of traffic, either. And it turns out to be really interesting how shifting your daily commute takes you down different roads, literally and otherwise.

(And yes, repairs were in order. When the bridge would open for boat traffic and close again, a worker would slip underneath with a 2 x 4 to bang the locking pins in place.)

So we locals found ways to get around even with a river in our path. A lot of us found ourselves on Main Street, part of it also named Moses White Boulevard for a storied black leader. Main Street parallels Interstate 275, an obvious option for getting on the highway. Commuters used to flying down streets we'd seen so many times we barely noticed the buildings anymore were now seeing a slower, less-traveled stretch. So what if your trip might take twice as long.

Main Street heads through public housing along streets alive with people walking kids home from school, teenagers in groups, elderly people leaning on canes waiting for the bus to come. Main Street takes you through old communities, past a place that says in English and Spanish you can get a whole roasted pig there, past hole-in-the-wall barbecue joints and their wonderful smells. It goes by intimidating bars and local bodegas. It passes a store that sells "stripper wear."

You hit the residential section in West Tampa and see homes behind ornate, wrought iron burglar bars. Front porches are busy with children and neighbors and life in general, an extension of the houses themselves, like an extra living room or a window on the world.

Remember Occupy Tampa, those once ever-present protesters on a busy downtown street who later set up camp in some obscure Tampa park? You pass them, too, still there, still holding steady with their tents and their peace signs, with a new group of displaced commuters to take in the message. It was easier, I found, to forget my South Tampa Publix and hit one to the north. The sound of Spanish there reminds me of shopping in my hometown of Miami. As an added bonus, you do not risk running into every muckety-muck in town on the chip aisle.

My bridge reopens May 20 and is supposed to look like it did 86 years ago, except with modern engineering and, if we're lucky, no need for a 2 x 4. When our own Carmageddon is over, no doubt I'll be back to the quickest route to get where I need to go. But I slowed down for a minute there, and got a new Publix to boot.

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