Advertisement
  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 cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Florida Department of Transportation is installing lights on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as part of a $15 million project. During tests this weekend, engineers will illuminate the bridge in a pink hue to commemorate breast cancer awareness month. Courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation
    The Florida Department of Transportation is lighting up the span this weekend to commemorate breast cancer awareness month.
  2. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is hoping to secure a $21.8 million federal grant to help pay for a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. St. Petersburg City  Council approved an interlocal agreement Thursday supporting the project. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
    Pinellas transit officials hope the project will get a federal grant in 2020. However, St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena still oppose it.
  3. Yesterday• Business
    The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin in January with passengers headed to Tampa. For departure times and fares for this season, which will go from Nov. 1 through April 30, check thecrossbayferry.com. [SCOTT KEELER | Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Now in its third year, the ferry will run Wednesdays through Sundays, with service for every Tampa Bay Lightning home game.
  4. Col. Jennifer Crossman smiles as Boomer, a 5-year-old dog, sits in the passenger seat of her car during the firefighter challenge at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [Times (2016)] Tampa Bay Times
    Uber customers can now be connected with willing animal chauffeurs — for a fee.
  5. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times Pasco County's long-range transportation plan no longer includes a proposed sales tax increase.
    The federally required plan guides transportation needs and expenses through 2045.
  6. Ryan Cummings, 23, of Tampa, left, and Alex Frey, 25, also of Tampa, rent Spin electric scooters from a corral located along Zack Street Tuesday, May 28, 2019 in Tampa. Electric scooter companies Spin, Bird, Lime and Jump were being deployed within the next few weeks according to a tweet from the City of Tampa on Sunday. Campbell and Henigan spent a couple of hours Tuesday trying the electric scooters. Frey and his friend Ryan Cummings rented two scooters during their lunch break. "We are going to Armature Works, we couldn’t do that without these." said Frey. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Plus the most bizarre incidents of electric scooter vandalism around the city.
  7. The traffic signal for eastbound traffic on Drew Street at McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater. Image by Archive
    A reader wonders why the sign at the end of Bayside Bridge instructs trucks heading north to exit during specified hours rather than stay on the bridge.
  8. In this Feb. 23, 2015 photo, a car is hauled from a canal in West Palm Beach, Fla. The driver was taken to a local hospital where he died. Palm Beach County has over 300 miles of canals, built to move water. Since 1997, 181 people have drowned in vehicles that ended in canals. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via AP) LANNIS WATERS  |  AP
    Of the nearly 1,100 people nationwide who died from 2013 to 2017 when vehicles went into water, 1 in 6 died in Florida.
  9. Dr. Daniel P. Greenwald, a well-known Tampa plastic surgeon, died on Oct. 5 when his twin-engine plane crashed soon after taking off from Kokomo Municipal Airport in Indiana. Greenwald family | Tim Bath/The Kokomo Tribune via AP
    An employee at the Kokomo Municipal Airport said Dr. Daniel P. Greenwald told him he wanted jet fuel for the Piper Aerostar. A friend says there’s no way he would have knowingly done so.
  10. Rekira Owens, a bus driver with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, greets officials from behind a newly installed shield as they board a bus Thursday in Tampa. The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed in Tampa this year. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The two transit agencies took action after a Hillsborough driver was stabbed and killed by a rider earlier this year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement