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Latest fatality on Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard prompts calls for speed solutions again

Five people have died in two years along the iconic waterside roadway popular with walkers, runners, cyclists and cars.
People walk, bike and run along Bayshore Boulevard near Rome Avenue an area where a cyclist was killed in a collision with a motorcyclist on Saturday while trying to cross in a crosswalk. Monday, April 6, 2020 in Tampa.
People walk, bike and run along Bayshore Boulevard near Rome Avenue an area where a cyclist was killed in a collision with a motorcyclist on Saturday while trying to cross in a crosswalk. Monday, April 6, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Apr. 11, 2020

TAMPA — Adam Wilson was taking an evening stroll up scenic Bayshore Boulevard when he heard a noise that has become too familiar.

It started from the north, a set of motorcycle engines revving, the bikes zipping past him headed south toward Gandy Boulevard. He estimated they were doing close to 100 mph.

When they turned back northward, Wilson managed to catch a few seconds of video of the motorcycles zooming by, their license plates covered, moving well in excess of the 35 mph speed limit on the scenic Tampa street.

That was in February. But it could have been any time.

“I see it every time I’m out there,” Wilson said. “Particularly in the evening, you can hear motorcycles and cars routinely racing up and down that street.”

Racing and speeding on Bayshore Boulevard remain a constant annoyance and a serious danger, locals say. That’s despite lower speed limits and other measures city officials have taken to regulate traffic.

That’s also despite three high-profile fatal crashes in two years that have left five people dead — a mother with her little girl in a stroller, a retiree out for a walk, and last Saturday, a motorcyclist who hit a bicyclist, killing them both.

That most recent tragedy has once again spurred discussion about what to do to make Bayshore safer.

Police investigate the scene of a bicyclist hit by motorcycle on Bayshore Boulevard Saturday, April 4, 2020 in Tampa. Both were killed in the accident.
Police investigate the scene of a bicyclist hit by motorcycle on Bayshore Boulevard Saturday, April 4, 2020 in Tampa. Both were killed in the accident. [ Spectrum Bay News 9 ]
Related: Bicyclist killed in Bayshore Boulevard crash was Tampa attorney

There are few roads quite like Bayshore Boulevard. It’s scenic. It’s iconic. It’s popular. Million-dollar mansions and high-rise condominiums line one side of a bustling roadway that serves as a convenient thoroughfare between downtown and South Tampa. On the other side is a wide 4.5-mile sidewalk and balustrade that hug the waterfront of Hillsborough Bay.

There is no barrier between the many walkers, runners, bicyclists and skaters and the vehicles that zip along the traffic lanes running north and south, with a tree-dotted median running between them.

For many locals, there is an increasing sense that Bayshore is dangerous.

Concerns spiked after the May 2018 deaths of Jessica Raubenolt, 24, and her 21-month-old daughter Lillia, who authorities say were killed when a pair of teen drivers were racing down the street. It happened again in January, after police said a drunk driver swerved his truck onto the sidewalk and killed 70-year-old George Gage.

Between January and March, the Tampa Police Department logged more than 30 citizen complaints of reckless driving on or near Bayshore Boulevard. That includes some reports of racing, but also weaving in traffic and speeding.

The numbers have ticked upward more recently. In January, there were six complaints. In February, there were 11. In March, there were 17.

Eight complaints involved motorcycles, while the rest were cars, trucks or SUVs.

All of this occurred despite reduced speed limits on Bayshore, constant police patrols and speeding enforcement. Officers were even there on Saturday a few hours before the latest fatal crash.

It was just after 11 a.m. when three motorcyclists were riding north on Bayshore.

Hal Holmes Flowers, 50, killed while bicycling on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, had a wife and four children.
Hal Holmes Flowers, 50, killed while bicycling on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, had a wife and four children. [ LinkedIn ]

At Rome Avenue, one of the motorcyclists struck bicyclist Hal Holmes Flowers, a 50-year-old attorney who was trying to cross the street. The motorcyclist, identified Friday as 31-year-old Justin Glenn Winterhalter, died at the scene. Flowers died at the hospital.

The investigation of the crash is ongoing.

Rebecca Arends, an attorney and resident of South Tampa, saw the trio. They were speeding, she said. It was enough to stoke dread of an imminent tragedy.

“I hope that there will be a discussion in the future between our residents, local legislators and leaders in the Tampa community to find additional solutions regarding this issue,” Arends said.

Bayshore is far from the only place where fatal crashes have occurred. Indeed, the road is not among the most dangerous in the county, according to statistics from the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Related: Is Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard really that dangerous?

But for many, Bayshore is different. That’s because it is unique, and because it’s a symbol of the city.

“A road that is celebrated as a safe place to walk and bike and recreate, that road should be made as safe as possible,” said Taylor Ralph, a real estate consultant and prominent voice in transportation issues. “I do think Bayshore does demand more attention.”

So what’s the solution? In Tampa, the city took preventative steps after the 2018 Bayshore crash. They included installing flashing signs at crosswalks, narrowing traffic lanes and lowering the speed limit from 40 to 35 mph.

Advocates want the speed limit lowered further. There is also support for extending the pedestrian space by closing one or both of the northbound traffic lanes.

Another solution is speed cameras. The lenses, similar to red light cameras, watch the roadway for speeders and generate citations for those going beyond the speed limit.

Related: Are speed cameras the answer for Tampa's Bayshore?

A number of studies have shown that speed cameras dramatically reduce incidents of speeding and the likelihood of crashes, said Chuck Farmer, vice president of research and statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“People are going to go fast if you let them, or if they think they can get away with it,” Farmer said. “If people think they’re being watched, they will behave themselves.”

Mayor Jane Castor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story. But in an appearance Thursday on local radio station WMNF, Castor reiterated that improving the safety of all city streets is a priority of her administration.

The mayor also revealed one new solution to the problems on Bayshore: new traffic lights. Stop lights will soon be installed at Rome Avenue, where the most recent fatal crash occurred, and at Euclid Avenue.

“In my opinion, the answer to Bayshore is to break it up,” Castor said. The new lights, she said, will prohibit drivers from building up excessive speeds between stop lights.

Other measures are in the works, like diverting some traffic from MacDill Air Force Base away from Bayshore and onto the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

Ultimately, though, the mayor said there’s only so much the city can do. Much of this comes down to personal responsibility.

“In each of those crashes," she said. “There’s usually some type of a bad decision made on someone’s part.”