TAMPA — Hours after Tampa City Council members advanced a tentative plan to close portions of Bayshore Boulevard to cars some Sundays to encourage walking and biking on South Tampa’s waterfront, Mayor Bob Buckhorn squashed the idea.
"We are looking at other options, but for the foreseeable future, Bayshore will not be one of them," Ashley Bauman, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, said Thursday evening. "Even as a pilot project."
It’s the second defeat for WalkBike Tampa, the nonprofit transit advocacy group that first proposed shutting down Bayshore in early February. At the time, Buckhorn said he didn’t like the plan because of its vagueness, potential cost and possible damage to the waterfront boulevard’s grass and landscaping.
Christine Acosta, WalkBike’s executive director, said she wasn’t surprised by Buckhorn’s position.
"The mayor has been saying that," she said. "We’re very grateful for the interest that council has expressed in this concept."
BikeWalk also has suggested making routes through Ybor City, Tampa Heights and New Tampa vehicle-free on a handful of Sundays between November and April. Those appear to still be on the table for discussion.
On Thursday, both sides sounded more conciliatory about Bayshore and the other routes.
"The city is open-minded to the concept and willing to discuss it," said Jean Duncan, the city’s transportation and stormwater services director. But the city wants more details on how many police officers and other city services will be required, she said.
Tampa police estimate it may take as many as 100 officers to protect the "soft target" event from potential threats.
The pilot project is designed to help older people, those with disabilities and children to enjoy urban corridors often choked with traffic and occasionally deadly to those not fleet of foot, WalkBike Tampa said.
The proposal takes its organizing principles from the Open Streets concept, which originated in Colombia and has spread across the world in recent years. The movement is often linked to support for more bike lanes, wider sidewalks and other safety improvements.
Taylor Ralph, who founded a Tampa sustainable real estate development company, told council members that the project could also be a corporate recruiting tool.
"Don’t forget about the economic development impact of these kinds of events in terms of attracting talent, in terms of attracting companies," Ralph said. "This is what the Googles, the Apples, the companies that everyone wants to attract, are looking for."
Acosta said the plan still needs to be tweaked and welcomed the opportunity to meet with police and transportation officials.
"This is not just about closing streets. It’s about changing perception, attitudes and culture in the city of Tampa in preparation for the eventual adoption of transit," Acosta said. "Transit does not work without walkability. Transit does not work without first- and last-mile solutions."
Yvonne Yolie Capin, who had told the transit activists to use "some common sense" when they first proposed closing down Bayshore, sounded more open to the idea on Thursday.
"I don’t think we should dismiss the entire idea of the this project," said Capin, the council’s chairwoman.
Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa, said the tension between bikers, runners, walker and drivers boils down to speed. A similar, but unrelated, spat has erupted over a joint city-county plan to reduce the number and size of lanes along Bay to Bay Boulevard.
Slowing traffic is the best way to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, Cohen said. In 2016, Tampa Bay was the seventh-deadliest metro area in the country. The top six were all in Florida.
Persuading drivers in a hurry to ease up on the pedal won’t be easy, he said.
"People do not want their daily lives disrupted by having to go slower," he said.