TAMPA — After more than four hours of discussion Thursday, Tampa City Council members asked the mayor to shut down the northbound lanes of Bayshore Boulevard one Sunday a month starting in June.
The proposal, suggested by City Council Member John Dingfelder, is the latest attempt to quell concerns that Tampa’s iconic road is a dangerous conflux of cars, bicycles and pedestrians.
The closure would serve as an experiment while city staff continues to research other ways to clamp down on speeding and pedestrian deaths throughout Tampa.
“If we don’t try, we don’t know,” said Council Member Guido Maniscalco, who seconded the motion. “By doing this, we’ll get the data. We’ll see how traffic and people react.”
Council Member Charlie Miranda was the lone dissenter in the 6-1 vote, saying he wanted more information before deciding. Miranda supported a separate motion that passed unanimously directing staff to come back with suggestions in May about how to address safety and speeding on Tampa’s roads.
Ashley Bauman, spokeswoman for Mayor Jane Castor, said the mayor and administration have considered similar actions for “quite some time.”
“We look forward to, when gatherings in public become safer, being able to do this not only on Bayshore Boulevard, but around the city,” Bauman said, a reference to meeting restrictions made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thursday’s discussion came amid reports of increases in speeding throughout the city and in the same month that a bicyclist on Bayshore was killed by a motorcyclist.
Hal Flowers, 50, was trying to cross Bayshore on his bicycle in a crosswalk near Rome Avenue on April 4 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.
More than three dozen people phoned into the Thursday meeting to share their concerns with council members about speeding, lighting and general safety along the corridor. Several mentioned Flowers’ death and the deaths of Jessica and Lillia Raubenolt, a mother and her 1-year-old daughter who were killed while crossing legally at a Bayshore intersection in 2018.
Jessica Raubenolt’s uncle and brother were two of the people who asked Thursday that council members make Bayshore safer for all, not just those in cars.
“My hope and prayers were that I would get some closure, that some action would be taken, it would never happen again and no family would have to go through what we did,” her brother Dan Reisinger said. “But the lack of change I’ve seen from Tampa’s government ... has been extremely frustrating.”
The council’s request to close the northbound traffic lanes one day a month fell short of more dramatic measures suggested by some speakers and council members.
Bayshore resident John Owens called for the city to drop speeds from 35 mph to 25 mph or less while developing a more aggressive, long-term strategy.
Elizabeth Corwin asked officials to take advantage of lower traffic volumes during the COVID-19 outbreak to experiment with closing vehicle lanes and expanding bike and pedestrian space.
Erin Elser joined others in advocating for lower speed limits, increased police presence, more traffic lights and closing the two northbound lanes, those closest to the Hillsborough Bay.
“We should remake and reconfigure Bayshore,” Rochelle Reback wrote in a comment read by Deputy City Clerk Suling Lucas. “Right now, the sidewalk is overcrowded with bikes and strollers and pedestrians because the bicyclists are afraid to ride in the roadway. There is too much competition for the narrow sidewalk.”
Alex Hernandez encouraged the city to use this time of minimal traffic for construction.
Maniscalco raised the idea of stripping the asphalt from the road and revealing the original brick underneath.
“Not only does it look good, because brick is beautiful in my opinion ... but it’s a natural traffic calmer,” he said.
Council members including Joseph Citro and Orlando Gudes reiterated throughout the meeting that Bayshore isn’t the only street to struggle with speeding and dangerous conditions. Dingfelder’s motion left room for the mayor and staff to close other streets, like Nuccio Parkway and New Tampa Boulevard, as part of the once-a-month test run.
Speeds have increased by at least 7 percent through mid-April, according to more than a month’s worth of data collected from 54 cameras by the city’s red-light camera vendor.
Traffic has dropped by 30 percent in Tampa, but the rate of red-light violations has increased by two-thirds compared to the same time frame a year ago. The company’s data also shows a rise in speed around the country.
Fewer cars have been on the road since March 1, but more of them appear to be lead-footing it.
“Something has to be done that’s innovative, that’s different,” Miranda said. “Because in this country, in this city, in this nation, all of it is based on speed.”
Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report.