TAMPA — For years, Tampa Bay has been a scary place for those who walk and bike. Now, Mayor Jane Castor is looking to change that by hiring someone focused on making the city’s streets safer for all.
Alana Brasier joins the city staff at the same time Tampa was admitted as a member of the Vision Zero Network. The organization works “to address the crisis of 40,000 traffic deaths a year in this country, and millions more injuries,” according to its website. The vision is reducing them to “zero.”
“We applaud Mayor Jane Castor and her team for committing to the goal of safety mobility for all, recognizing that we all deserve the right to move around our communities safely,” Leah Shahum, Vision Zero Network founder and director, said in a news release.
Vision Zero is an international initiative dedicated to safer road design by slowing traffic, educating the community and providing fair enforcement of the law. Other projects include installing mid-block crossings, improving intersections and adding crosswalks.
Part of Brasier’s job includes analyzing crash data to understand the factors involved in severe crashes and where these types of crashes are occurring most frequently.
Castor created the new, full-time position of vision zero coordinator because she “recognized the need for someone dedicated to this goal not only in the mobility department but citywide,” city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said. The position is the first of its kind in Tampa Bay.
Brasier, who worked for the Tampa Downtown Partnership and contributed to development of the Tampa Riverwalk, will be paid a salary of $101,000. She has spent much of the last decade coordinating with transportation planning groups in Hillsborough along with the Florida Department of Transportation. In her new role, she reports directly to Danni Jorgenson, planning chief for mobility.
The Tampa Bay Times spoke with Brasier about her interest in transportation, the mission of Vision Zero and where Tampa goes from here.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What interests you about transportation and safety planning?
I love planning in general, all the pieces of it. I feel transportation is the area that really kind of draws everything together, the land use and economic pieces of it. I was really drawn to it from the sustainability side of it. Making it safer for people to walk and bike and leave their cars behind.
For me, it was trying to create a safer road network for everyone, not just those walking and biking, but people driving and taking transit. I think that makes it a more attractive community for people to live in. And that’s ultimately my goal, to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable community.
What is your favorite development in Tampa’s transportation network in recent years?
I’m fortunate to be able to say the Riverwalk, because I was lucky I had the opportunity to work on it. I think that was a really big game-changer for downtown. It coalesced at the same time with other things happening, like getting Coast Bike Share here ...
All of those things combining at the same time, I think, really helped people see that downtown, for one, could be a destination, but it also got more people biking and walking. … Those numbers increased exponentially. At first, it was mostly people staying downtown for a convention that were using the Riverwalk. But the last couple years, we’ve seen it was a draw for people not only around Tampa but the region as a whole.
Are there any common misunderstandings you hear about Vision Zero?
One thing is for people to know that we are not talking about just bicyclists and pedestrians, we are talking about everyone using the road. Bicyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable users, and they do have more of a focus that way. If we’re making it the safest for them, then it’s safer for everyone.
But I want everyone to know we’re also talking about people who are driving, so you’re not a mile from your home and get in a horrible car crash. … Or thinking, ‘I mostly drive, so that’s for someone else, not for me.’ No, it’s for people driving and for people taking transit, too. We’re focusing on everyone using the road.
What is significant about Tampa joining the Vision Zero Network?
One, it’s recognizing the work that’s already been done by the city of Tampa, which has been significant over the past 10, and especially five years, with the speed management program and the protected bike lanes and pilots that have been done. Getting that recognition is really wonderful.
And two, it helps us tap into more resources across the country and the world. The Vision Zero Network is kind of that central focal point that connects and shares information and resources. … It further allows us to access communications and see what’s working well in other places, how other places have done things, and do they have suggestions.
What kind of difference would the transportation sales tax money make for Vision Zero, if it is upheld in court?
Of course it would make a huge difference in our ability to further provide safe infrastructure, like those protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks. But another thing the public should understand, Vision Zero is about rethinking and retooling the way we do things.
Without the money, regardless, we’re still going to be coming up with an action plan. … We already know there are some great programs we have that we can build upon. Maybe we can identify some new things we can try here, and also identify some things we’ve been trying that aren’t working. ... With or without the money, we’re going to be doing that. Of course, if we have the (sales tax) money, it’s even more exciting, because there’s more to work with, to build out that extended network and our safety programs.
Each year we hear that Hillsborough is one of the deadliest places in the country for bike and pedestrian fatalities. Are there unique challenges that Tampa faces?
It’s Florida in general. I think in the latest report, seven or maybe eight of the top 10 are all in Florida that were the most deadly for pedestrians. It’s just the car-oriented nature that we all developed around across the sunbelt. Florida has a high population, we have kind of more of a problem here than other states.