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Tampa’s Bayshore lane closures put on hold

City official said the coronavirus pandemic makes partially closing Tampa’s iconic waterside street one Sunday a month too dangerous.

TAMPA — A proposal to shut down the northbound lanes of Bayshore Boulevard once a month was put on hold Thursday by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration.

Castor supports the general idea of activating public space by occasionally closing streets, said Vik Bhide, the city’s mobility director. A transportation task force recommended such activities.

But the pandemic makes the Bayshore proposal, approved by City Council last month, unworkable for now, he said.

“The concern is to limit any kind of congregation,” Bhide said at a virtual City Council meeting.

Bayshore Boulevard, which winds from downtown through South Tampa along the water and is popular with walkers, runners and cyclists, has been the site of some high-profile traffic fatalities in recent years.

Council members didn’t push back on the Castor administration’s stance, but Chairman Guido Maniscalco said the idea needs to be pursued when public health conditions improve.

The city has been dominated by the automobile since the streetcar system was disabled after World War II, he said. That has to change.

“We have to become more people-centric than car-centric,” Maniscalco said. “We can’t let this conversation die.”

The council unanimously approved a request for city staff to report back in September.

Not all council members are on board with the idea yet. Charlie Miranda said he wants to see a study on how closing the two northbound lanes will impact traffic on other streets and whether adequate parking exists for people who may flock to the iconic street if it’s closed to car traffic for recreation purposes.

“Once you close that road, it’s everybody’s road. Not just the people on Bayshore,” said Miranda, who was the only council member to vote against the proposal in April.

The city is working on developing a study to determine the impact of a possible closure, Bhide said.

Council member Joseph Citro, who lives on Bayshore, said he also wants more information on parking and other logistical issues.

Transportation activists have lobbied for the partial closure of the street for years, efforts that have intensified more recently after the tragic and highly-publicized deaths of pedestrians and a bicyclist.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Thursday that his city will close a stretch of Bayshore Drive NE, which runs along the city’s waterfront, to traffic. Kriseman said in a statement he wanted to give his city’s residents more space to recreate outside. The closure takes effect Friday.

Tampa has already closed some streets in downtown, Hyde Park Village and Ybor City as part of an effort to create more space for diners and shoppers to practice social distancing during the pandemic.

Bhide said that Bayshore potentially fits well with Castor’s Open Streets concept, which would allow streets to be temporarily closed for a range of activities.

“This is our mandate. This is something we look forward to doing,” he said.

Council member Bill Carlson said closing Bayshore once a month on Sundays doesn’t solve the larger safety issues of the thoroughfare. He asked staff to prepare a more detailed plan to address how to reduce speeding and make other safety improvements throughout the city and report back in September.

Input will also be requested from MacDill Air Force Base and the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority at the request of council member John Dingfelder.