1. Hillsborough

Councilman, businesses push for traffic safety measures along Busch Boulevard

TAMPA -- The 2015 death of a 17 year-old Chamberlain High School student, Alexis Miranda, who was killed walking to school one morning, continues to prompt calls for safety measures on Busch Boulevard.

The Florida Department of Transportation's traffic study covering 3.3 miles along West Busch Boulevard (SR 580) from North Dale Mabry Highway to North Nebraska Avenue in Hillsborough County has resulted in a number of recommendations.

"FDOT is committed, through our Complete Streets initiative, to design our roadways in a manner that is cohesive with the surrounding land uses," said Kris Carson, Public Information Director for FDOT, District Seven. "For this section of Busch Boulevard we have evaluated a number of changes to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. One recommendation is to reduce operating and posted speeds. Implementation of the study recommendations, combined with aggressive law enforcement, will improve safety for all modes of travel."

As residents await plans to be put in place, Busch Boulevard remains a dangerous road for drivers and pedestrians alike. Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera recently addressed the issue of safety on the road at the Sept. 5 Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.

"Like all of us, I have seen the terrible developments on Busch Boulevard, and believe that this necessitates action," said Viera. "I have been reaching out to members of my community and the larger Busch Boulevard community, and I am happy to say I have letters and statements of support from numerous prominent stakeholders in the community, including Stewart Clark, CEO Busch Gardens & Adventure Island, Mark Sharpe of Innovation Place, Tracia Clossey of the The Forest Hills Neighborhood Watch, Jim Wujek, President of the University Civic Association, and Mel Lohn of Mel's Hot Dogs."

The councilman, and community members, are requesting that FDOT places a high level of urgency on the safety of drivers and pedestrians as it implements plans to change the road rules of Busch Boulevard and keep people safe.

"With speed often being the determining factor between life and death in a crash, a reduction in speed is paramount," said Beth Alde, MPO Executive Director. "Therefore, classification of the School Segment from North Boulevard to N Florida Avenue as Suburban Commercial should be reconsidered as Urban General to allow for the reduction from the current 45mph and 40mph speeds to a 35mph speed."

In addition to a reduction in local speed limits, other requested changes include additional pedestrian lighting and a higher emphasis pedestrian crossings – similar to what you see on Fletcher Avenue.

"Over the years I've seen more than my share of accidents around my restaurant, said Mel Lohn, owner of Mel's Hot Dogs on Busch Boulevard east of the area under study. "I witnessed a tragic pedestrian death right in front of my restaurant, a tourist at Busch Gardens misjudging the speed of an approaching vehicle and I've had a truck crash into my restaurant."

As a business owner who's been on Busch Boulevard for 45 years, Lohn remembers a time when it wasn't the busy road that it is today, and when crossing it safely wasn't the challenge that it is today for pedestrians.

"I believe the problem lies in the accepted speed above the stated speed limit," Lohn said. "If we've got a 45 mph limit, then 55 mph is acceptable. I say this because I see it and drive in it daily."

According to the Hillsborough County MPO, there were 105 incapacitating and deadly crashes on E Busch Boulevard, between Nebraska and 56thStreet, between 2010 and 2016. Six of these incidents resulted in the death of a pedestrian or bicyclist.

"Places like Busch Boulevard are underrepresented in the political process, but often are over represented in hardships in life," Viera said. "We have got to step up and be their voice."

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