TAMPA — Traffic on Bayshore Boulevard flies by so quickly that most days Wendy Wilson refuses to cross the boulevard north of Rome Avenue. Instead, she walks her dogs and jogs on Bayshore's west side.
"It's just too dangerous. You think you see an opening and then a car comes flying around the corner," said Wilson, 50, who lives on Willow Street about two blocks from Bayshore.
Wilson and hundreds of other joggers, cyclists and pedestrians could soon catch a break.
Under a plan to slow traffic, the city is set to break ground today on a $1.5 million project to reduce the busy six-lane road to four lanes between the Davis Islands Bridge and Rome Avenue.
The project will add bicycle lanes in both directions, painted crosswalks, left-turn lanes for northbound traffic and crossing signal improvements at Platt Street and Bay-to-Bay Boulevard.
Left-turn bays will be added at Rome, Oregon, Willow, Newport, Delaware, Edison and Brevard avenues.
Some concrete panels that make up the road surface will be replaced or repaired.
About 33,000 vehicles a day travel on Bayshore. The boulevard's 3.1 miles of uninterrupted sidewalk also makes the scenic highway popular with cyclists, joggers and pedestrians.
But the mix of pedestrians and vehicles sometimes has produced volatile results.
"The traffic is so loud you can't hear the bicycles coming. I've almost been hit. I know friends who've been hit," said Krisztina Lestak, 33, who lives on Harbour Island and jogs on Bayshore Boulevard four times a week. "You have to be very careful."
For 10 years, city officials, cycling enthusiasts and Bayshore homeowners have debated ways to make Bayshore safer.
In 2004, after a jogger was killed by a motorcycle, Mayor Pam Iorio created a safety task force to recommend changes.
A sidewalk was added to the boulevard's southbound side and a traffic signal installed at Howard Avenue.
In 2009, traffic engineers, working with neighborhood groups unveiled a more comprehensive plan called the Bayshore Boulevard Enhancement Project.
The work scheduled to start this month stems from that plan.
"The idea is to make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, so it's not a free-for-all out there," city transportation division manager Jean Dorzback said.
"Between the left-turn bays and having a less-wide roadway, those are conditions that cause drivers to go at a lower speed."
The seven-month project, which is funded by state gasoline taxes, is the first of three phases to improve Bayshore between Platt Street and Gandy Boulevard.
The second phase, from Rome to Howard, is funded at about $2 million and is set to take place in 2014.
The third phase, from Howard to Gandy, has not been funded and isn't scheduled yet.
"As far as the plan, it made sense to us," said Guy King, president of Bayshore Boulevard Homeowners Association, which provided input to the safety plan.
"Lowering the number of lanes will help with traffic calming. And having the bike lanes will help,'' he said. "You can't have bicycles on the sidewalk and runners on the sidewalk and walkers on the sidewalk. Hopefully, this will help out."
The city said the boulevard will remain open during construction, but the work will require periodic lane closures.