Getting a new crosswalk and traffic signal on a road proven deadly to pedestrians should not take 16 months. The Florida Department of Transportation needs to speed up its timeline for installing safety upgrades on a dangerous stretch of Hillsborough Avenue and local government agencies should remove all hurdles that would impede the DOT's progress. Bureaucracy should not stand in the way of safety.
Hillsborough Avenue is a six-lane roadway packed with restaurants, big-box stores, a flea market, a drive-in movie theater and dozens of mom-and-pop businesses ranging from bridal boutiques to beauty supply stores. Signs also cram the road, making it very distracting for drivers. Jaywalking has long been a problem as there are significant distances between crosswalks.
In March, 15-year-old Norma Velasquez-Cabera died after she and her sister were hit by a car as they tried to cross Hillsborough on their way to Middleton High School. Three weeks later, a car struck and injured another high school student. And in 2011, a 15-year-old Middleton student died after failing to cross safely. From 2008 to 2012, records show there have been 21 pedestrian and bike-related crashes on Hillsborough between N 22nd Street and N 30th Street, one of the avenue's most congested stretches.
School officials responded to the most recent incidents with a safety campaign that included letters to parents, sessions with students and a visit to an elementary school by superintendent MaryEllen Elia. The district also launched a shuttle bus to transport students from an apartment complex on the north side of Hillsborough to Middleton, which sits south of the roadway. But elected officials, east Tampa residents and distraught parents demanded more. In response, DOT officials announced plans for a crosswalk and traffic signal that they estimate should be in place by next summer. This isn't a complex fix, and it shouldn't take the state another school year to make this happen.
Pedestrians must take responsibility for their safety and should utilize crosswalks and all of the tools afforded to them as they navigate streets. Drivers should be more alert too, realizing that pedestrians can dart out at any time. Transportation officials can help by incorporating safety measures that mirror pedestrian behaviors and by finding ways to improve other trouble spots on Hillsborough before more collisions occur.
A new crosswalk, traffic signal and improved lighting on Hillsborough should help curb accidents among students who are trying to get back and forth to nearby schools and adults who frequently cross midblock. The DOT has a solid plan that worked well after similar problems occurred on Busch Boulevard, another busy roadway with few accommodations for pedestrians. But there is no good reason it should take 16 months. The road needs attention now.