1. Transportation

Hillsborough saw fewer pedestrian deaths in 2016, but Tampa Bay still dangerous for walking and biking

A worn out symbol of a pedestrian on the surface of the Pinellas Trail in East Lake. Pedestrian deaths in Hillsborough County fell by almost 25 percent last year, following the deadliest year on record in 2015 for people walking the streets. But transportation planners said too many pedestrians and bicylists are dying on Tampa Bay's roadways. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Jan. 2, 2017

TAMPA — Pedestrian deaths in Hillsborough County fell by almost 25 percent last year, following the deadliest year on record in 2015 for people walking the streets.

But transportation planners warn not to read too much into the drop. The county is still the deadliest in the region. Bicyclist deaths are up from the past few years. And in Pinellas County, pedestrian fatalities have increased 18 percent in the past five years.

"I would welcome the news but I wouldn't jump to a lot of conclusions yet," said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization.

For one thing, the 2015 spike was unusually high, with 51 pedestrian deaths. The 39 fatalities in 2016 still is more than any other year since 2010.

The 2016 numbers are preliminary, complied by the Tampa Bay Times from the state Department of Transportation, the Florida Highway Patrol, and local law enforcement and planning agencies.

But they show that change is slow to come.

One major initiative for transportation leaders following 2015's deadly record was to add more crosswalks in Hillsborough, especially along busy, multi-lane roads such as Hillsborough Avenue. But even something as seemingly simple as adding a few painted stripes or a flashing sign takes time.

Transportation officials, for example, wanted to put a signaled crosswalk near Middleton High School where two students died, but got bogged down by the logistics required to get the small amount of land needed for the signal box.

"It's just a tiny little bit of right of way, but it will slow you down by a year," Alden said.

Increasing the frequency of those signalized crosswalks is a big help, though. Transportation officials and local governments are making more of an effort to install mid-block crosswalks, where a light flashes for traffic to stop when people push a button to cross. The Florida Department of Transportation has plans to build four of these in Hillsborough in 2017 and two in Pinellas, and are studying locations for others.

It's something Pinellas County has focused on for years, especially on the beaches and along Gulf Boulevard, said Pinellas MPO executive director Whit Blanton. And drivers are becoming more accustomed to the flashing signals and driving slower on those roads just in case.

"A pedestrian can push those at any minute, and if you're going too fast you're not going to be able to stop in time," Blanton said.

People used to have to walk about a half-mile along Hillsborough Avenue before they reached a safe place to cross. Now, thanks to the mid-block, flashing crosswalks, Alden said it's more like a quarter-mile.

There's a tension in transportation planning between mobility — how quickly and easily we get around — and safety. Often, planning prioritizes mobility, sometimes at the expense of safety, especially for pedestrians.

"We've had a mentality of making sure we don't have traffic signals put too close together because it slows down traffic," Blanton said. "If you have too many signals per mile, that creates a congestion problem, but it also leave a sort of barren wasteland for pedestrians to cross."

Regardless of crosswalks and education initiatives, wide, fast roads remain dangerous for pedestrians throughout Tampa Bay. That's especially true for Pinellas, which is a tight, concentrated, urban community, Blanton said. And those types of roads are at odds with ongoing redevelopment in places like St. Petersburg and Dunedin, which make areas a more attractive place to walk.

"That's a positive trend, but it's in the face of a physical environment we've created with a lot of fast-moving, eight-lane roads," Blanton said. "People still need to get across those roadways to get to their destinations."

And while the City of Tampa was recently recognized in Bicycling magazine's "50 best bike cities," and earned a bronze award from the League of American Bicyclists, that, too, comes with some caveats, Alden said.

In 2016, Hillsborough saw a dozen cyclists die, the most since 2012. Pasco saw nine bicylists lose their lives, which was the highest number since 2011.

And only 6 percent of Tampa roads have bike lanes. The average for communities that earn a silver designation from the group is 51 percent.

"(That award) acknowledges that Tampa is actively working on the problem, but clearly there is a lot of work still to be done," Alden said. "It's going to be awhile before we get to that critical mass where we have a network of safe places where you can safely, or even predictably, cycle."

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


  1. Tampa has a pilot program underway to test scooters. Clearwater could soon have one of its own. But if it's limited to downtown, who will use it? CHRIS URSO  |   Times
    The city’s plan is coming into focus, but there will be limitations.
  2. A study found that two of the worst intersections in the country for running red lights are in the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay Times
    Two intersections are among the worst for running red lights
  3. Florida Department of Transportation workers inspect damage to the Interstate 175 overpass at Sixth Street S caused by a roll-off dumpster truck that left its hydraulic arm upright, according to St. Petersburg police. The incident sent concrete falling onto Sixth Street S below. Courtesy St. Petersburg Police Department
    Sixth Street S from Fourth Avenue S to Fifth Avenue S will be closed for up to three weeks for repairs, state officials say.
  4. Pasco County plans to reduce bus service to central Pasco. The route began in May 2017. Handout
    The cuts eliminate Saturday service and a route along Collier Parkway.
  5. Check for the latest breaking news and updates.
    His infant daughter suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said.
  6. Hillsborough County will dedicate about $1 million each school year to employ crossing guards at all 43 of its public middle schools. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times (2014)]
    While the board’s new Democratic majority fought for modest increases in taxes and fees next fiscal year, the commission voted Thursday night to forego any changes to the millage rate.
  7. Pasco County says it was a mistake to assess a transportation fee on this Dunkin' Donuts store in Land O' Lakes as if it were a fast-food restaurant. The county categorized it as a convenience store/gas station and refunded nearly $59,000 to the developer. C.T. BOWEN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The department added safeguards after an audit showed it couldn’t account for more than 31,000 commercial building permits and sometimes failed to collect required transportation fees.
  8. Tampa Bay residents hold on to Toyota Land Cruisers the longest of any car, according to iSeeCars. Pictured is a Land Cruiser in 2008. [Reed Saxon | AP] REED SAXON  |  AP
    The area’s longest-held car is a favorite among metros across the country.
  9. The state of Florida released a new design for the Tampa Bay Lightning specialty license plate. (Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
    The team’s signature blue color shines.
  10. Kirt Conrad, center, explains the mechanics of a hydrogen fuel cell bus to people who attended a demonstration Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum in Pinellas Park. Conrad is CEO of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in Canton, Ohio, which provided the bus for the event. Among those in attendance were Tampa Bay area transit officials. CAITLIN JOHNSTON
    Area officials get a look at hydrogen-powered buses that already are serving commuters in Ohio, California and Michigan.