TAMPA — A surprisingly large crowd braved frigid-for-Florida weather Tuesday evening to listen to seven Tampa mayoral candidates agree to pretty much everything related to making the city’s streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
For 75 blustery minutes outside Sparkman Wharf, the candidates answered questions that were basically variations on a theme: Tampa’s streets aren’t safe for those not in cars. What will the next mayor do about it?
They all strove to present their bonafides on the issue to a crowd filled with transportation advocates and sponsored by Walk Bike Tampa.
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Former police chief Jane Castor and former county commissioner Ed Turanchik touted their lifelong passion for biking.
Small businessman Topher Morrison, who lives downtown, said he hadn’t owned a car in nine years.
City Council member Harry Cohen said elected officials should hold the same standards for road accidents that they do for plane crashes: Even one is unacceptable.
“I’ve ridden down Kennedy Boulevard. Oh, my god!” said Turanchik, who advocated lowering the speed limit on the busy thoroughfare. “Speed kills.”
This wasn’t the forum to roll up in your Dodge Charger.
Retired banker and philanthropist David Straz was the only candidate to break from the herd and take a position unpopular with the crowd: He sided with Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who earlier this year squashed a multi-use Complete Streets project on Bay to Bay Boulevard — a move that drew criticism from the groups present at Wednesday’s forum.
Promising to listen to residents and follow their wishes if elected mayor, Straz said those who supported bike lanes, better sidewalks and crosswalks and lane changes on Bay to Bay would have to do their own spade work before he would weigh in on the issue.
“This group is going to have to convince their neighbors,” Straz said to scattered boos.
A moment later, Turanchik said he would support turning iconic Bayshore Boulevard into a setting safer for people on bikes and foot than the commuting thoroughfare it is now. He would do that by putting in still more protected bike lanes and crosswalks — an effort already underway under Buckhorn, he said after the forum.
This approach went over much better.
Throughout the forum, hosted by Tampa Bay Times editor and columnist Ernest Hooper, a bike bell rang when the candidates’ time was up, prompting Morrison to quip he was afraid he was about to be run over.
That didn’t happen. Nor did any other political tussle.
Turanchik wasn’t pressed by other candidates or put on the spot by any of the eight questions displayed on an electronic message board by the stage why he was so critical of the one penny on the dollar transit tax before it was approved by voters in November.
Nor was Castor poked by any of her rivals, stretching to three her streak of being untouched in the forums held so far, dating back to Oct. 3. Castor has led in early public polling.
Organizers had said they weren’t interested in political fisticuffs. Instead, they wanted detailed answers to their safety and transportation questions and the candidates obliged.
City Council member Mike Suarez said his vision of a city full of strong neighborhoods would be fulfilled if the city followed the suggestions of Colombian transit guru Gil Penalosa, who preaches that streets should be safe for anyone 8 to 80 who wants to walk or ride in their neighborhood.
Suarez also said electric scooters belong on the streets, not the sidewalks. The Tampa City Council recently voted to start devising rules for scooter use in the city.
Castor went farther, saying the scooters, which have been embraced in cities across the country recently, were just a fad.
“I think e-scooters will be a has-been in a year,” Castor said.
LaVaughn King, a community activist and former transportation analyst for Alachua schools, captured many of the common sentiments by saying if Tampa wanted to achieve global city status it had to act quickly to make its streets safer.