TAMPA — Transportation advocates urged Tampa to think bigger, but city leaders say they're sticking to iconic Bayshore Boulevard with their new initiatives to slow traffic and protect pedestrians and bikers.
Nearly 20 speakers laid our their concerns with the safety of the city's streets at a City Council meeting Thursday, urging the council to add safety measures along an east-west artery that intersects with Bayshore — Bay to Bay Boulevard.
Several said Bay to Bay is a tragedy in the making, pointing to the deaths of a young mother and toddler on Bayshore in May as a grim warning of what may lie ahead.
"What happens when someone dies on Bay to Bay? Who is responsible?" said Taylor Ralph, a transportation activist. "The city has not acted."
They asked Mayor Bob Buckhorn to reconsider his March decision rejecting a plan to narrow existing lanes and add bike lanes along busy Bay to Bay, opting instead to direct the non-motorized traffic toward parallel streets nearby.
Buckhorn showed no signs of changing his mind Thursday. His office didn't respond to a request for comment.
But council member Harry Cohen, who his running for mayor, suggested that Buckhorn re-examine one feature of the rejected "complete streets" plan for Bay to Bay — reducing the four-lane road to three lanes, including a turning lane to help keep traffic moving.
"I wish we would take another look at it," Cohen said.
Those speaking before the council pleaded for a resolution urging the mayor to reconsider, but the council demurred. Cohen said it has no authority in the decision.
The debate over Bay to Bay played out alongside a series of suggestions about how to make Bayshore safer, including rumble strips, traffic roundabouts, additional crosswalks, even closing to motor vehicles the two eastern lanes that hug the bayfront front.
The testimony was punctuated by an emotional appeal from John Reisinger, a neighborhood resident and uncle of Jessica Raubenolt, the woman who was pushing her 2-year-old daughter, Lilia, in a stroller across Bayshore on May 23 when they were struck and killed. Three people were arrested in the collision on charges including street racing at speeds of 102 mph.
Bayshore is popular among bicyclists and pedestrians but also serves as a high-volume traffic artery. That's not safe, Reisinger said.
"It can't be both," he said.
Nick Friedman, who has worked to transform Bayshore into a scenic corridor, said he often sees children waiting on Bayshore's grassy median for traffic to clear so they can cross. It's "almost like playing a game of Frogger," Friedman said, referring to a popular video game from the 1980s where a frog tries to cross a street without being hit.
"It's time we start shifting the paradigm … making Tampa more of a pedestrian-first community," Friedman said.
The city hopes to advance toward that goal, said Jean Duncan, transportation and stormwater director. The speed limit was cut from 40 mph to 35 mph right after the Bayshore tragedy and plans call for the same change on other main thoroughfares around the city, Duncan said.
The city also is accelerating plans to add pedestrian-activated flashing crosswalks, narrower lanes, striping to delineate bike lanes and more speed limit signs along Bayshore, she said.
Those improvements should be completed by October.
The city is studying whether to add three more crosswalks between Howard Avenue and Gandy Boulevard and is also investigating whether a traffic signal is needed along that stretch, which carries an average of 43,000 vehicles daily.
Council member Guido Maniscalo said these measures can't be in place fast enough.
"This is a life and death issue," Maniscalco said.