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40th Street neighbors still await city's help

Driving north of Hillsborough Avenue on 40th Street, you cross a little bridge over the river and enter a place called Temple Crest.

It's a neighborhood of contrasts.

Those people who are fortunate to live on the river have stupendous views from their backyards, of the sunset and blue herons and alligators moving through the water. It's idyllic and rural, yet around the corner the reality is inner-city urban. This section of 40th Street is dotted with small businesses _ day care centers and beauty shops (a sign in from of one warns, "God Is Watching") juxtaposed with what looks like an appliance graveyard.

Either way, the people who live near 40th Street have had it.

A sign hand-lettered in red paint just south of River Hills Drive says it all:


It's not an exaggeration.

The street is dangerous. It has been dangerous for a long time, promises have been made and yet nothing has been done.

The road is too narrow. It's not well lit at night, and it floods when it rains. There is no place for a bus to pull over when it stops. There are no sidewalks or bike lanes yet this is a neighborhood where in some cases getting places other than by car is an economic necessity.

As you approach the bridge over the river, going north, there is a jag in the road _ the bridge is on the left _ and if by mistake you go straight you land in the water.

That has actually happened.

It's easy to see how. The street needs a warning sign the size of a billboard.

Terry O'Neal is one of the neighbors involved in the 40th Street campaign. He wrote the City Council a letter in which he describes this scene:

"One rainy night about 9 p.m. as we were driving home via North 40th Street, a set of eyes reflected in our headlights. Because of the lack of adequate lighting and the rain we could not see ahead of us clearly. The water was pooling along the side of road so badly that cars were forced to single file navigate the middle of the road. . . . As we drove closer, to our shock, we were not seeing a deer or a dog or even a raccoon. Instead, a senior citizen from a small residential complex along 40th Street was driving his electric wheelchair south along the berm of the sidewalkless street, dodging cars and puddles. On his lap, he was carrying a sack of rain-soaked groceries."

O'Neal says he has seen a teenager drive into the river and drown.

He and his neighbors have seen enough.

In one corner of the red-lettered sign on 40th Street, the writer adds, CALL MAYOR IORIO, and gives a phone number.

There's hope that in this new administration some things will get taken care of, things that every neighborhood deserves and that only some of them have been getting.

It's not just a matter of safety, although that is the first priority.

It is the first step in strengthening this diverse neighborhood that is not so very far from USF.

New money does not want to come here, not with a street like this one. Businesses here do not want to invest more in property along a street that for so many years they have been told will be widened.

The people who live here know it all, too well, for too long. If they feel the city has left them behind, it would be no surprise.

Talk doesn't cut it. A new road and sidewalks might.

_ Sandra Thompson is a writer who lives in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturdays.