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Officials want dramatic overhauls for Fowler Avenue, Busch Boulevard

LUIS SANTANA   |   Times A view of traffic Fowler ave. looking eat towards Bruce B. Downs blvd. in Tampa.  [Saturday December 29, 2018] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
LUIS SANTANA | Times A view of traffic Fowler ave. looking eat towards Bruce B. Downs blvd. in Tampa. [Saturday December 29, 2018] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
Published Dec. 30, 2018

TAMPA — Two traffic deaths along Fowler Avenue this month have prompted officials to again raise a critical transportation issue.

Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera and Tampa Innovation Alliance executive director Mark Sharpe have intensified their calls for traffic calming and safety measures along Fowler and Busch Boulevard, another busy corridor in North Tampa.

That's following the deaths of Andre Dwayne Moore, Jr., 15, on Dec. 6 and Charles Kinsey, 46, on Dec. 15. Moore was killed after being struck by two vehicles while riding his bike on Fowler and N 22nd Street. Kinsey, a pedestrian, died after being struck by a car at Fowler and Hoyt avenues.

Moore's death particularly resonated with the pair because it occurred in what may be the busiest and most dangerous part of Fowler, between Nebraska Avenue and 30th Street. According to Sharpe, Fowler and Busch need traffic and safety improvements because they serve as major gateways to important city entities. From Interstate 275, Busch leads visitors to Busch Gardens. Fowler serves as a corridor to Florida Hospital, James A. Haley VA Hospital, the University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center from both I-275 and Interstate 75.

"It's a speedway," Sharpe said of Fowler. "It's fast and it's dangerous. It's not designed for businesses along the road, it's designed to move cars rapidly."

In addition to being unsafe, Sharpe said the mechanics and looks of Fowler and Busch are dragging down the development of the area. He said the Innovation Alliance is trying to enhance the areas around USF into an inviting enclave that attracts businesses and provides opportunities to residents. But the safety issues and lack of scenic vistas on the roads that serve as a first impression for many visitors is making that challenging. He said improving those stretches of asphalt should be an imperative for city and county officials.

"First, the economic mechanics of the area is limited on those roads," said Sharpe. "But what if we made it easier? You would see an economic explosion and immediate benefits."

Sharpe wants to see a transformational change to the roads that would save and improve the lives of both residents and visitors to the area. His vision would include an overhaul that would make the medians more visually appealing and add dedicated lanes for cyclists and pedestrians.

"As an innovative district, we need to be innovative about how our roads look," Sharpe said.

Viera said that part of town is often forgotten in favor of more affluent areas. Even the news coverage of the recent Fowler deaths was lackluster, they said.

"North Tampa streets are very, very dangerous and to me this comes down to respect," Viera said. "We need to treat the lives lost on Fowler, Busch and other areas with the same respect as one who loses their life elsewhere."

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Public transportation remains a key factor in adding safety to the roads. An app called the "Uptowner" will launch May 2019, allowing users to call for a quick ride to businesses in the USF area.

Improved public transit, better speed management programs and safe zones for pedestrians to cross could transform Fowler and Busch into true boulevards, Sharpe and Viera said, where people can safely walk and bike next to the road and drivers move at a steadier speed with less stop and go.

"We've studied roads all over the world, and if done properly with the right signalization, you can still move 60,000 cars on Fowler but do it in a much safer way," Sharpe said.

The two fatalities on Fowler this month underscore its status as one of the city's most dangerous roads, Sharpe said.

A three-mile stretch along east Busch Boulevard, from Nebraska Avenue to 50th Street, may be as dangerous with 252 crashes reported in 2016, 262 crashes in 2017. In 2018, there have been 191 crashes, with two of those crashes proving deadly.

As state roads managed by the Florida Department of Transportation, city officials and residents are left to voice their concerns regarding safety along Fowler Avenue and Busch Boulevard.

As a result, FDOT is conducting two major corridor studies to be finished in year 2020.

"We continually monitor pedestrian and bicycle crash rates and we have a number of locations where we have already implemented countermeasures," said David Gwynn, FDOT District Seven Secretary. "We know there is a lot of work to do and we are committed to work towards our goal of zero fatalities."

FDOT is also undertaking a safety project that will install four new crossings on E Busch Boulevard at Brooks, 12th and 19th streets and also at Pawnee Avenue. Once complete, these new crossings will have rapid flashing beacons and signals that pedestrians can activate when crossing. Construction is set to begin in 2020, though completion may not happen for five years.

Additionally, FDOT has given the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office each $50,000 in grant money for enhanced speed enforcement along Busch, Fowler and Hillsborough Avenue. Those efforts are scheduled to start in January.

Contact Jennifer Lima at hillsnews@tampabay.com.