TAMPA — It doesn’t have to be that complicated, or expensive.
It could be as simple as painting the city’s crosswalks with a rainbow of attention-grabbing color, or slapping bumper stickers on the back of police cars to remind drivers to leave at least three feet between their vehicle and any cyclists sharing the road.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is already working to tick those street safety initiatives off her to-do list. Last week, she promised that list will continue to grow with her administration’s renewed commitment towards joining the global “Vision Zero Network” of cities aiming to completely eliminate pedestrian, bicyclist and vehicular deaths on their streets.
It’s a tall order for the Tampa area, which is consistently ranked one of the deadliest places in the nation for pedestrians and cyclists. In 2019 alone, 149 pedestrians have already been killed in traffic-related incidents on Hillsborough County roadways.
“That’s a very lofty goal, to go from having around 200 fatalities in our community each year to zero, but I have no doubt we will be able to do it,” Castor said Thursday.
Castor and other city and county leaders got plenty of help last week, as hundreds of transportation and public safety advocates from across the country brought their ideas to Tampa for a week of street safety conferences, networking and workshops at the Hilton downtown.
Citizen-led advocacy group Walk Bike Tampa hosted the three-day 2019 Safe Routes to School National Conference, which ended just as the second annual Gulf Coast Safe Streets Summit kicked off at the Tampa Convention Center.
Both events underscored numerous safety concerns borne out of the Hillsborough County’s recent school placement issues, haphazard growth patterns and disjointed planning processes. Those deficiencies came to a head earlier this year, when members of the county commission, school board and city councils for Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City held their first joint meeting in recent memory in hopes of finding solutions for school safety concerns.
That conversation, which spanned the school district’s scaled back courtesy busing routes, disappearing crossing guards and inadequate infrastructure surrounding schools, still has to be continued at a second joint meeting yet to be scheduled.
If the state Supreme Court determines Hillsborough County’s voter-approved, 1 percent transportation sales tax increase is valid, Hillsborough County’s chief administrator of development and infrastructure Lucia Garsys said the county has already committed $15.7 million of the collected funds to help build “safe routes to school.”
But attendees at last week’s workshops also offered up a treasure trove of effective and effortless projects that could improve pedestrian safety without bureaucratic hangups or huge price tags.
That’s something Castor highlighted in eye-popping color on Thursday, as she unveiled the first of many school crosswalks to receive a vibrant makeover in the coming months through her “Crosswalks to Classrooms” initiative.
Students at downtown’s Rampello Magnet School were the first to help transform their crosswalk, located at the intersection of Jefferson and Washington streets, into visually-enticing artwork aimed at drawing the eye of oncoming motorists, making them look out for crossing pedestrians. Now, the students walk across the spines of classic children’s books on their way to class instead of faded, white lines.
Repainting the crosswalk cost the city less than $2,000, Castor said, and only took a few hours to complete.
“And compared to the value of the lives of our children, spending $2,000 on a safe crosswalk is really nothing,” Castor said. “It’s such a simple thing, but it can safe lives.”