Palma Ceia is a neighborhood where walking is enjoying something of a renaissance.
A home-grown group, the Sidewalk Stompers, consists of parents and students who promote walking by strolling to Roosevelt Elementary together. The PTA and merchants have given prizes to students and classes with lots of walkers. And in a year and a half, the number of students walking to school has more than doubled.
But for some parents and others, there's a disincentive to walking: Bay to Bay Boulevard.
"A recipe for disaster," says Tim Scheu, a co-founder of the Sidewalk Stompers. Old utility poles planted in the middle of sidewalks make it difficult to maneuver around them, especially for anyone with a wheelchair or stroller. And the traffic is fast enough that a lot of parents north of Bay to Bay are leery of their kids crossing it to walk to school. "The Bay to Bay corridor really fails to live up to its potential."
That could change next spring.
Tampa and Hillsborough County officials are working on plans to resurface and reconfigure Bay to Bay from Dale Mabry Highway to Bayshore Boulevard.
From Dale Mabry to Esperanza Avenue, which is a block west of MacDill Avenue, Bay to Bay could go from four to three lanes — one in each direction and a turn lane in the middle. Taking out one lane of traffic also would allow officials to put a bike lane protected by a 2-foot buffer on each side of the road.
From Esperanza east to Bayshore, there's simply too much traffic — a lot of it making left turns at several closely spaced intersections — to allow for any reduction in lanes. So the recommendation is for Bay to Bay to remain four lanes. There Bay to Bay's pavement could be painted to designate "sharrows" — shared lanes for both cars and bikes. And gaps in the sidewalks would be filled in.
Officials think traffic on Bay to Bay can be slowed down, making it safer for cyclists, without causing congestion on a road that carries 13,800 to 18,000 vehicles a day. A draft of a study done for the city by DKS Associates concludes that reducing lanes from four to three would "maintain existing acceptable traffic conditions, but result in longer queues in the single through lanes" at intersections with traffic lights.
Bay to Bay is in the city of Tampa but is owned by Hillsborough County, so both governments are working on plans for a project estimated to cost $600,000. Officials plan to hold a public meeting in the fall to outline their plans and get residents' reactions to the project.
Already, however, some residents have weighed in on the social network NextDoor.
"Dumbest idea ever," wrote one. Said another: "Can you imagine the lines at Dale Mabry and MacDill? ... Horrible. And yes, people will begin to use more smaller neighborhood streets as cut-throughs, endangering kids and pets."
The skepticism does not surprise city officials.
"We don't do any project where somebody doesn't have a concern about it," city transportation and stormwater services director Jean Duncan said. "We're very comfortable with the traffic that can be accommodated with the proposed changes."
The Bay to Bay project will be similar to a reconfiguration done last year on Palm Avenue, Duncan said. There, the city added grassy medians, left-turn lanes, bike lanes and mid-block pedestrian crosswalks from Nebraska Avenue to Tampa Street.
On Bay to Bay, county funding will cover work only from Dale Mabry to Bayshore, and the city plans to contribute some funds to ensure that recommended sidewalk expansions are included in the project. Making similar changes from Dale Mabry west to West Shore Boulevard would have to be done in the future.
The work can't start soon enough for Palma Ceia resident Taylor Ralph.
"I always thought that the road needed to be calmed down," he said. "As someone who walks in the neighborhood with my children and rides a bike pretty frequently creating a more safe environment on Bay to Bay would definitely be beneficial. … It's a very unsafe situation."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times