Carlton: Ask questions, get facts, vote yes on the transportation tax that would help neighborhoods that need it most.

NAACP Hillsborough Branch president Yvette Lewis. [Times files]
NAACP Hillsborough Branch president Yvette Lewis. [Times files]
Published Oct. 25, 2018

It's a fact: Tampa is a city standing still when it comes to improving transportation. And it's a no-brainer this hits poorer neighborhoods the hardest.

Those communities suffer most when bus routes get cut like they were last year, when streets lack sidewalks, crosswalks and streetlights that save lives, when government fails again and again to make any real progress on mass transit.

The good news? Voters in Tampa and Hillsborough County have a shot at doing something about it.

A referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot would increase the sales tax by a penny to pay for wide-ranging improvements such as adding bus service, building a mass transit system, resurfacing roads, improving intersections, relieving rush hour bottlenecks and making it safer to walk and bike around here.

Given our historic lack of forward movement on this subject, support for this All for Transportation plan is pretty telling.

There's the downtown business boosters, naturally, but also the Tampa Bay Sierra Club on board. There's support from leaders in the black community, including Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, former state Rep. Ed Narain and state Sen. Darryl Rouson in St. Petersburg. The plan got the nod from the influential African American community newspaper, the Florida Sentinel Bulletin and also the trilingual weekly La Gaceta.

All of which made this week's reaction from the leader of the Hillsborough NAACP a head-scratcher.

Chapter president Yvette Lewis told the Times' Christopher O'Donnell she worries the new tax would hurt poorer families and that a committee to oversee how the money is spent would have no representatives from the black community.

Lewis also said those big-name, big-money donors don't do enough for the black community as it is.

Here it's important to note it was Lewis, and not the NAACP chapter itself, that announced opposition to the transportation plan.

Questions are appropriate. Criticism and vetting are critical, especially for an ask this big. And mistrust has been earned.

But while the broad plan stretches into unincorporated Hillsborough County and includes bike and pedestrian trails, it also targets millions for improved bus service. All for Transportation says it could include 132 miles of street improvements in East Tampa, West Tampa, VM Ybor, Progress Village and the University area, presumably neighborhoods of concern for Lewis.

That oversight committee can't exist until the actual tax increase does. Then it will be up to the politicians who appoint that board of non-politicians and people who can't benefit financially from the plan to make sure it reflects all the faces and facets of the community.

The tax would cost the average household about $120 a year, certainly a bigger hit in poorer parts of town.

But won't those neighborhoods also benefit from increased bus service and, eventually — hard as it is to conceive in a place that has resisted it so long — mass transit?

Here's hoping Lewis and anyone similarly concerned gets answers. Because we're in the home stretch here. And a plan that could change both city streets and far-flung suburbs alike is our best shot yet at moving forward. Finally.