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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Politics

Video to reinforce pedestrian safety upgrades on Fletcher Avenue

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TAMPA — Hillsborough County is spending $4.4 million on road improvements to keep so many pedestrians and cyclists from being hit by cars on Fletcher Avenue between Nebraska Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

But those improvements — crosswalks with flashing warning signs and expanded “safety islands” in the middle of the street — won’t help much if people don’t use them. So the county is also creating an educational video and brochures to explain the new safety features and persuade people to use them.

“We’re going to be putting together a video that says bicycle and pedestrian safety in this area is paramount,” said Steve Valdez, spokesman for Hillsborough Public Works. “You need to use these traffic control features we’re installing on the road.”

The video will be shown in north Tampa community centers and on television monitors at the University of South Florida. The brochures will be distributed at schools, retail establishments and other place people congregate.

County officials say Fletcher Avenue is one of the most dangerous thoroughfares for pedestrians and bicyclists in the county. One reason is that people dart across the street where there isn’t a signal.

“People just sheet-flow across that road from every direction,” Valdez said. “I’ve seen bikes pulling wagons with kids in it.”

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On Tuesday, Tiffany McClellan pushed a carriage with her 2-month-old baby across Fletcher Avenue between the traffic signals at 15th and 22nd streets. She stood on the narrow median, then darted the rest of the way when she saw a break in traffic.

“If I can get across the road, I’ll get across it,” McClellan said, though she admitted she’d love to see more crossings for walkers.

Mike Willams and a friend also crossed between the two lights, stopping and talking on the median until they could get to the south side of the street. Willams said he knows it’s not the safest way to cross the street, but he was in a hurry to get home.

“No, it’s not a good thing to do; not in Florida, not in Tampa,” Willams said. “You get hit in Tampa just looking like you want to walk across the street.”

In the effort to make the road safer, the county will be installing four new crossing signals that feature rectangular flashers atop green cantilevers warning drivers a pedestrian is about to enter the crosswalk. The driver is supposed to yield to the walkers.

At the Wal-Mart store on Fletcher, just west of Bruce B. Downs, a crossing signal is being added that will have a red light to make vehicles stop. The signal will also produce sounds to guide visually impaired pedestrians safely across the street. Pedestrians activate both types of crossing signals with push buttons.

Another new safety feature is called a Z crossing. When pedestrians reach half-way across the street, a fence will direct them into a 90-degree turn before they can turn to cross the rest of the way.

“It’s an engineering technique that changes behavior by making them look at the on-coming traffic,” said Bob Campbell, the county’s manager of traffic engineering. The technique is widely used in Europe, he said.

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At the request of some University of South Florida students, the county expanded the safety project to include a sidewalk on Fletcher from Bruce B. Downs to 50th Street, Campbell said. The sidewalk is under construction and will be finished in a couple of months. The rest of the project, including the wider medians, new crossing signals and Z crossings, will wind up in August.

The Fletcher Avenue project was part of a larger effort to reverse Hillsborough County’s reputation as a killing ground for pedestrians and cyclists.

Last year, 35 people were killed by vehicles in the county while they were walking or riding bikes, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. That’s an improvement over 2012 when 47 walkers and bicyclists died in traffic crashes in the county.

The county’s 13 bicycle deaths in 2012 led all Florida counties except Broward, which had 14 fatalities. Broward County has about 600,000 more people than Hillsborough.

The $4.4 million for the Fletcher Avenue project includes $3 million from the state transportation department. As part of that grant, the county will produce a post-project report to measure whether the improvements made a difference in the crash rate for pedestrians and cyclists.

Commissioners approved a separate $8.5 million in August 2012 for safety improvements on some of the county’s most dangerous roads. The work includes sidewalks on streets that don’t have them, bike lanes where they fit along roadways, and road markings for bikes called “sharrows” where the right of way is limited. Those projects are ongoing.

Angela Evans, who was walking on the Fletcher Avenue sidewalk with her 2-year-old granddaughter, Marianna, said the road is so dangerous she will only cross at a traffic light. Evans said she can’t wait for the new signals.

She says it’s the drivers who need watching on Fletcher or Bearss.

“People go too fast,” she said, “they’re on the phone. By the time they’re up on you, it’s too late; it’s a wrap.”

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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