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  1. Transportation

Hillsborough planners take to streets to study pedestrian safety

A group composed of Hillsborough County transportation planners, engineers, politicians and law enforcement cross Hillsborough Avenue and Kelly Road during an on-street audit of Town ’N Country roads Tuesday. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times]
A group composed of Hillsborough County transportation planners, engineers, politicians and law enforcement cross Hillsborough Avenue and Kelly Road during an on-street audit of Town ’N Country roads Tuesday. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Feb. 1, 2017

TAMPA — They stood on the sidewalk of the busy intersection, their fluorescent vests and clipboards catching the attention of passing drivers.

The group, composed of a dozen or so transportation planners, engineers, politicians and law enforcement, scanned the roadway looking for any way to make it safer for those who walk or ride a bike.

To start with, the sidewalk's steep slope wasn't compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. The crosswalk was slanted, not perpendicular to the curb, which is preferred. Across the street, a sidewalk stopped abruptly, leaving nowhere to go for walkers. Bushes, signs and a large green metal box made it difficult for drivers at the stoplight to see people who might cross in front of them.

"There's no way that driver can see us from that angle," said Danielle Joyce, director of traffic services for the engineering firm GPI. "It's a huge safety concern."

Joyce was one of about 60 people who met Tuesday at the Town 'N Country Regional Public Library in northwest Hillsborough County. They split into four smaller groups for a Hillsborough County workshop on improving bike and pedestrian safety.

The event was part of Vision Zero, an international initiative dedicated to designing safer roads. The group says that how governments build streets is just as much to blame for pedestrians' deaths as the decisions of the pedestrians themselves.

Tuesday's event was different from most transportation meetings, where people fill a board room and talk. Yes, there was plenty of brainstorming, but most of it happened outside meeting rooms and on neighborhood streets.

"You don't get the same impact from looking at Google maps or planning documents," said Chris Speese, bike and pedestrian outreach coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation's local office. "It's hard to ignore the issues when you're standing here."

Concern over pedestrian safety issues has risen in recent years, especially in Hillsborough County, one of the deadliest in the country for those who bike and walk.

Nearly 100 people were killed walking in Hillsborough in the past two years, according to data maintained by the state. Additionally, 20 bicyclists were killed.

Florida remains the nation's deadliest state for pedestrians, according to a recent report from Smart Growth America. The seven most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians are all in the Sunshine State, including Tampa Bay, which was ranked seventh with 821 pedestrians killed over a 10-year period through 2014.

"I think the issue is really coming to the forefront in a really powerful way," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp. "We have to take action.

"It was a visceral experience to walk and see the issues firsthand today."

Tuesday's event was the second of four workshops scheduled this year as part of the Vision Zero initiative. The goal is to put together an action plan of five or six realistic changes that can be made in the next two to five years to improve safety for all those who use the roads.

Workshop members discuss everything from short-term solutions, such as adding mid-block crosswalks so people don't have to walk half a mile to the nearest stoplight to cross, to long-term solutions such as redesigning a street to add buffered bike lanes.

"Ultimately, this is a culture change," said Beth Alden, executive director for the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization. "It's going to take some time, and there's only so much you can do at once."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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