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Small fix on Temple Terrace bike lane heralds big effort to stop traffic deaths

Published Apr. 26, 2017

TEMPLE TERRACE

Several dozen volunteers gathered Tuesday morning along Bullard Parkway Bridge in Temple Terrace for an experiment in safety.

Last year, 12 people died while riding their bikes in Hillsborough County. How many lives, the volunteers wanted to know, could they save with some cans of spray paint?

They shook their cans, the little ball inside rattling, and slowly covered a worn and cracked bike lane with neon green paint.

Clink-clink-clink. Hissssss.

The paint sprayed out one stripe at a time. When the volunteers finished, it was impossible to miss the designated path along the bridge.

"The whole point is to draw attention and help drivers know when they're expected to share the lane," said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization. "How do we know where to expect bicyclists if we don't make a place for them?"

The project was part of Hillsborough County's third workshop for its Vision Zero initiative, an attempt to reduce all traffic deaths — drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians — to zero.

More than 220 people died in traffic crashes in Hillsborough County last year, according to data maintained by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Hillsborough is not the only county struggling with this issue. Tampa Bay as a whole faces high numbers of traffic deaths, particularly for pedestrians.

A 2016 national study by Smart Growth America ranked Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater as the seventh most dangerous metro area in the country for people who are walking. More than 820 pedestrians died in Tampa Bay between 2005 and 2014, the study showed.

The goal of the Vision Zero workshops is to identify ways to help reduce those deaths, preferably through low-cost projects that can be accomplished within a year or two.

After they finished painting the bike lane, volunteers reviewed a draft of the Vision Zero action plan that listed potential solutions in four categories: education, enforcement, design and policy. Each lists specific action items that can be accomplished within the next few years, such as building new bike and pedestrian facilities in areas with high crash rates and installing murals at high-crash intersections near schools to help educate students.

Similar initiatives are taking place throughout Tampa Bay. Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg are focusing on building complete streets — a term for roads that include bike lanes, sidewalks, lighting and other elements that make them safe for everyone, not just drivers.

"They're essentially addressing the same sorts of goals (as Hillsborough), but just using different messaging," said Lisa Frank, campaign organizer of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "It's about investing in safer streets. Too many people are dying on our roads."

The city of St. Petersburg is compiling a list of complete streets projects and priorities and is expected to release a draft plan in late summer or fall, Frank said.

In Hillsborough, a final version of the Vision Zero action plan will be presented in August. It will include some projects that are as simple and cost-effective as Tuesday's bike lane painting.

"Let's see what we can do with low-cost strategies, working within the budgets we have, to reduce our traffic fatalities," Alden said.

Amanda Douglas of Renaissance Planning, a consultant group hired by the county for Vision Zero, said Tuesday's project was an example of an easy way to show people what can be done to improve safety without spending a lot of money.

Ultimately, Douglas said, the safer a street is, the more people will be comfortable with walking or biking somewhere instead of always getting in their cars.

"As a region, all of us are sick of sitting in traffic," Douglas said. "The more people we can get out of their cars, the more we can reduce congestion, provide options, and make our roads safer."

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

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