Carlton: Pedestrian death rate does not surprise Tampa crusader

Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick is “a strong advocate for his district,” the mayor says.
Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick is “a strong advocate for his district,” the mayor says.
Published Aug. 14, 2014

The news, if you are Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, is not news. Daily reality, and part of the job of representing the city's poorer neighborhoods, yes. But not news.

Already we knew about the Tampa Bay area's grim distinction as one of the deadliest places in America to try to cross the street. But the latest headline put some eyebrow-raising numbers to it: Pedestrian deaths are nearly three times as likely to happen in Hillsborough County's most impoverished communities (and nearly twice as likely in Pinellas), according to a study by Governing magazine.

Even if you already figured that the neediest neighborhoods tend to get the short end of the stick, they are numbers you notice.

Reddick notices. He's at an impromptu roadside press conference on busy Hillsborough Avenue where two sisters were hit, one of them killed, trying to get to their high school. He's pushing for amenities other neighborhoods can take for granted, like city pools, where kids have fewer options.

Those deadly pedestrian numbers? "It's not new," he said, "primarily because the poor neighborhoods have been neglected by government for so long."

Hometown headlines back up the numbers: A mother pushing a stroller is hit and killed while walking along darkened 43rd Street. An 8-year-old dies after trying to get to a convenience store on the other side of busy Busch Boulevard. Hillsborough Avenue is the scene of a spate of pedestrian and bicycle wrecks.

While other neighborhoods clamor for bike lanes, speed tables and parking for nearby restaurants — and this week, worry that public art will block their water views — Reddick ticks off a wish list: Crosswalks. Sidewalks. Better lighting. All for places where people walk.

The good news in this?

Anyone who has watched Tampa grow up has seen a trend. The crumbling, crime-ridden housing projects where no child should grow up disappear. Sulphur Springs, where blight has long been part of the landscape, has the mayor's full attention. Crosswalks are planned for deadly stretches of road — too late for the past, but necessary for the future. The "Bright Lights, Safe Nights" program adds thousands of streetlights.

"Over the last decade or so, East Tampa has gotten significantly more," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "Granted, the needs are greater. There have been some historical imbalances over time I am trying to mitigate."

Neighborhood amenities like safe, well-kept parks and city pools matter, too. Pools, as it turns out, have been a line in the sand for Reddick.

First it was a badly needed one in Williams Park, then the historic, shut-down Cuscaden Park pool in Ybor City. Both times, Reddick indicated he might not vote for the city budget unless money for those pools was included.

Today, Williams Park is open. And just as another historic pool was about to reopen on monied Davis Islands — and what a photo that would have made alongside the shuttered one in less affluent Ybor City — Cuscaden was in the budget.

"A strong advocate for his district," Buckhorn said of Reddick. A necessary thorn in the side, too.

Lately, it's a lack of sidewalks near a school off Chelsea Avenue on Reddick's mind — a place no one wants to hear about in the kind of headlines we've gotten too used to around here.