If only Hillsborough County leaders had taken action by now to answer the transportation challenges of a growing region, we might have some options beside the one-driver, one-vehicle system that prevails today. If only they had added more public buses through the years, we might not now face a downward spiral of cost and service cuts. If only they had invested early in a light-rail or a streetcar-to-somewhere line, these concepts might not seem so insurmountably expensive today.
But they didn't. Voters didn't. So we rank at or near the bottom in most measures of transportation efficiency, subject of a recurring dark joke when leaders get together to discuss what's next: We're so far behind, we may be out front — a clean slate for trying out new technology like driverless cars, unfettered by competing forms of alternative transportation.
Adding to the gloom is that people are dying as they try to get around in Hillsborough County — more of us, in fact, than in any other large county in the country on a per-capita basis, according an action plan released this week by the public-private, traffic-safety partnership called Vision Zero.
Many of the region's transportation woes seem beyond the capacity of any individual to solve. They'll require the kind of consensus and leadership that so far has proved elusive.
But the Vision Zero plan points to ways anyone can help make roadways safer.
Some solutions involve better design and infrastructure. The absence of street lights, for example, is a factor in an alarming number of traffic fatalities — 39 percent of pedestrian deaths and 24 percent of deaths involving bicyclists. And not surprisingly, a higher share of Florida bicycling deaths occur at night in poorer neighborhoods, where more people rely on two wheels for transportation, according to a report last week by the Governor's Highway Safety Association.
Still, many more solutions involve individual behavior.
And as often repeated and patently obvious as these solutions are, the Vision Zero report sharpens the message with fresh local data.
• Aggressive driving accounts for 33 percent of all fatal crashes on our roads — driving, walking and bicycling. It's even worse, 42 percent, when just vehicle crashes were measured.
• Distraction from electronic devices was reported in 19 percent of fatal and incapacitating-injury vehicle crashes. And the number may be higher because it's not always included in reports by law enforcement agencies.
• Just one-third of local roads account for three-fourths of the county's severe crashes — an argument for making the infrastructure improvements called for in the plan but also a signal that motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists need to pay special attention when traveling crash-prone roads.
These include the plan's five most dangerous stretches — Brandon Boulevard from Falkenburg Road to Dover Road, Gibsonton Drive-Boyette Road from Interstate 75 to Balm Riverview Road, Hillsborough Avenue from Longboat Boulevard to Florida Avenue, Fletcher Avenue from Armenia Avenue to 50th Street and Dale Mabry Highway from Hillsborough Avenue to Bearss Avenue.
But simply paying close attention to the road and to the people around us, really close attention, is the best advice wherever we travel.
This is made easier if we limit distractions, by securing whatever we're carrying, finishing the process of dressing and grooming at home, and adjusting mirrors before we head out. Common sense advice like counting to ten when a motorist cuts us off can help with the aggressive driving, too.
There are also valuable tips for all motorists in the advice that insurance companies have for truck drivers: Watch your blind spots, reduce speed in work zones and on curves, maintain your vehicle, adjust for bad weather, and take care of yourself — get enough sleep, eat right and exercise so you feel more content and refreshed behind the wheel.
Getting around the Hillsborough County area may remain a miserable experience until leaders develop more transportation alternatives. But we can take matters into our own hands to make sure it isn't a painful or deadly one.