Sunday, May 20, 2018
Transportation

Carlton: Guess what happened to the guy who tried to walk instead of drive around here?

Six months ago, Kyle Simon ditched his car and pretty much walked where he needed to go. And he did this here, in one of the most dangerous places in America to be a pedestrian.

Can you see where this story is going?

First, some background. Simon, 33, has lived in cities where you can get along fine without wheels, places with better public transportation and bike-friendly streets. But when he resettled in his native Tampa, he figured he'd need a vehicle.

A reasonable if disheartening assumption. While progressive things are happening around Tampa Bay, transportation has not traditionally been one of them. Here persists the belief that you deal with clogged highways by building more highways to clog. We have long lacked an efficient bus system. Uttering "rail" can be high treason.

Simon got a car. In his job in government relations for a Tallahassee-based trade association, he can work from home not far from downtown, or Starbucks or anywhere with decent WiFi. With millennial optimism, he spent much of that year on foot anyway and eventually decided to sell the car. He wrote about it in a letter to the Times, lauding signs of progress like the Cross-Bay Ferry, Uber and Lyft, and urging leaders to push on for better transportation. Like I said, an optimist.

Simon likes walking even where it can be a challenge. He hoofs it to the gym, to the grocery, to friends. He mixes up routes so it doesn't get boring. He buses, Ubers and rides the Downtowner shuttle. He gets mad at himself if his phone app says he didn't hit 10,000 daily steps, his personal best being 42,310.

"I like to feel more connected and know my neighborhood and my community," is how he explains it.

His friends think he's a lunatic. His mom worries. People say: You need a car, it's dangerous here. That last part is grimly so.

Florida is still the deadliest state for pedestrians, according to a January Smart Growth America report. And Tampa-St.-Pete-Clearwater is the seventh worst metropolitan area for people on foot.

Just last weekend, a man walking the shoulder of U.S. 19 in Port Richey was killed when a driver lost control. Video from Monday in Holiday shows a 14-year-old boy hit on his bike by a swerving SUV, a miracle he wasn't seriously hurt. He was lucky.

So, Simon knows, was he.

On May 3, he was headed across Ashley Street on Kennedy Boulevard downtown in the crosswalk when an SUV made a left turn toward him. The last thing he saw was the Aloft hotel valet throwing up his arms as if to try to stop what was about to happen. Simon's head hit the hood. He was knocked down. Later he was checked for serious injuries at Tampa General Hospital. He still aches.

In other cities, vehicles and pedestrians have learned to co-exist better. Here drivers forget walkers and bikers. Some who walk share the blame, like the two women who skittered across the street in front of my moving car just this week, the crosswalk a half-block away.

Simon is even more cautious now. He takes back roads, seeks out drivers' eyes. He'd like to see fewer streets like speedways and drivers more aware. "I think we also need to improve our public transportation options significantly so people don't think they need to have a car," he says, someone who walked the walk and lived to tell.

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