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Tampa struggles with how to make Bayshore Boulevard safe for all

Even before the latest fatality on Bayshore, advocates had hoped to convert some traffic lanes on popular streets into bike lanes. Mayor Jane Castor withdrew the idea, citing potential crowding in a time of coronavirus.
Cars and drive along Bayshore Boulevard and Rome Avenue near where a cyclist was killed in a collision with motorcyclists on Saturday while trying to cross in a crosswalk. Monday, April 6, 2020 in Tampa.
Cars and drive along Bayshore Boulevard and Rome Avenue near where a cyclist was killed in a collision with motorcyclists on Saturday while trying to cross in a crosswalk. Monday, April 6, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Apr. 6, 2020

TAMPA — Gena Torres spent most of the last decade trying to make Tampa’s streets safer.

So when Torres, a project manager for the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, pedaled down Bayshore Boulevard Saturday and saw yellow tape and police cars blocking the road, she got excited.

The day before, she was on a phone call with city and county transportation experts discussing closing lanes of traffic on streets to make room for bikes and pedestrians in the time of coronavirus.

“I thought, ‘oh my god, they did it, this is so cool,'" Torres recalled. “I’m going to see a bunch of people using the road walking and biking.”

Instead, she saw a motorcycle turned over in the street and pieces of a bicycle strewn about.

“My heart dropped,” Torres said. “It was the opposite of what I hoped.”

What Torres witnessed was the aftermath of a fatal crash that killed a bicyclist and motorcyclist Saturday.

Hal Flowers, 50, was trying to cross Bayshore on his bicycle in a crosswalk near Rome Avenue when a northbound motorcyclist riding in a group of three collided with him. Both were killed. Witnesses said the motorcyclists seemed to come out of nowhere.

Whether anyone faces charges will depend on if there is evidence that someone besides the motorcyclist who died somehow contributed to the accident, said Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.

The Tampa Police Department “just has to go back and look to see what these guys were doing leading up to the accident,” Warren said.

The names of the motorcyclists have not been released. Tampa Police spokesman Eddy Durkin said the case is still an open investigation.

Saturday’s deaths are the latest in a string of fatalities near the scenic linear park that is both a two-way thoroughfare for cars and a popular spot for running, biking and walking.

City officials have made a series of changes to the busy road over the years, including adding flashing signs to crosswalks and lowering speed limits. Last year the city spent about $165,000 to add four flashing crosswalks on Bayshore south of Howard in hopes of making it safer for people to cross between neighborhoods and the popular trail.

Residents and advocates have been calling for years for increased safety measures on Bayshore, including weekend closures, speed bumps and cameras. Some of those voices are amplifying now that traffic counts are down and bike and pedestrian numbers are up in wake of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Torres and others in the transportation community thought the city was close to converting some of its traffic lanes to bike and pedestrian friendly spaces on a half-dozen city roads.

“They were telling us that the city now, especially with less cars on the road, was going to do this sort of stealth push where they were going to change these roads,” Torres said. “Bayshore would probably be a really good one with less cars now.”

But Tampa Mayor Jane Castor released a statement on Twitter Monday saying no changes to traffic patterns would take place on the iconic street.

The mayor also said that, while it had been discussed, other Tampa streets won’t be closed for fear of drawing large crowds.

“While closing certain streets for recreational purposes was considered, it has become clear that doing so would make these streets an attraction for large groups of people at a time when it is more important than ever for all of us to exercise social distancing,” Castor said in the statement.

Bike and transportation safety advocate Christine Acosta was also on the phone call Friday discussing converting some lanes on popular Tampa streets. She said she was perplexed to see Castor change directions Monday.

“I think her message is incomplete,” Acosta said. “It doesn’t solve the problem of the crowded trail.”

Times reporters Charlie Frago, Dan Sullivan and Kavitha Surana contributed to this report.

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