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Residents divided about putting Bay to Bay on road diet

Residents disagree on a plan to make a busy stretch of Bay to Bay Boulevard safer for bikers and pedestrians that involves reducing lanes, possibly making traffic congestion even worse.
Residents disagree on a plan to make a busy stretch of Bay to Bay Boulevard safer for bikers and pedestrians that involves reducing lanes, possibly making traffic congestion even worse.
Published Feb. 16, 2018

TAMPA — Everyone agrees that Bay to Bay Boulevard has a traffic problem.

But a plan to put the major east-west thoroughfare on a "road diet" has neighborhoods like Palma Ceia and Virginia Park in an uproar.

Some residents cheer changes to make the street safer for bikers and pedestrians. Others fear reducing the roadway to three lanes on a six-block stretch between South Dale Mabry Highway and South Esperanza Avenue — while adding bike lanes — will make a often clogged street even more congested.

Still, others want to know why the joint city-county project isn't doing more to untangle rush hour traffic coming off the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

The proposal doesn't decrease the lanes between Esperanza and Bayshore, although it reduces westbound traffic to one lane and makes the three eastbound lanes all turning lanes — two left turns and one right. Those changes will help bikers and pedestrians navigate the busy eastern end of the boulevard.

All the proposed changes have their fans and detractors. They were easy to identify at a Feb. 8 meeting as the factions clapped and jeered during a public presentation at Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library that drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100.

Occasionally, exasperated parties threw verbal jabs at one another.

"Should we just ride bikes everywhere?" said one man, miming riding a bike with a child's high handle bars in response to a vocal supporter of bike lanes.

Engineers, citing a study and traffic counts completed in December, stressed that reducing lanes and adding bike lanes wouldn't slow traffic further, but would make Bay to Bay safer, including new left-hand turn lanes.

The street sees an average of 18,439 vehicles on an average day, just below the threshold level for a "road diet," a popular traffic engineering concept that encourages safety for pedestrians, bikers and cars through lane reconfigurations, bike lanes and sidewalks. The "road diet" for Bay to Bay will cost at least $860,000 in city and county funds.

That concept appealed to many, including several families who said they feared trying to venture to Bayshore Boulevard on foot or to walk their children to school.

"It's a very dangerous crossing now," said Emily Hinsdale, a co-founder of Sidewalk Stompers, a local group promoting walking to Roosevelt Elementary, who held her 9-year-old daughter Rose, a fourth-grader at the school, on her lap. "I applaud you considering pedestrian rights. It's not only cars in Tampa. Not everyone in Tampa wants to drive."

But many of those who do drive aren't happy. Several people said they didn't think the city or county was really listening to their objections, a charge denied by the city meeting's organizers.

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"Leave Bay to Bay alone. It's congestion city," said Amy Loupin, a Virginia Park resident, who says she travels the boulevard four times a day and sees any lane reduction as only likely to worsen the snarl.

Thursday's meeting was part of the public comment period for the project, which ends Friday (Feb. 23).

The city will respond to the public's concerns on March 16.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.