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Politics

Work will make Tampa roads safer for cyclists, walkers

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Published:   |   Updated: July 5, 2013 at 09:22 AM

TAMPA - Work will be getting under way this summer to make some of Hillsborough County's most dangerous road segments safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Using $8.5 million that the county commission appropriated last August, the Public Works Department has completed one project and is either designing or ready to start construction on eight of the most dangerous road segments outside the city limits of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace.

A tenth project, putting raised medians down Fletcher Avenue between North Boulevard and Florida Avenue, was dropped from the list because of opposition from business owners along the street.

Tampa Bay is one of the nation's most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians and bicyclists. According to a 2011 study by the group Transportation for America, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area was the second most dangerous in the country, trailing only Orando-Kissimmee.

From 2000 to 2009, 905 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed by cars and trucks in the Tampa Bay metro area.

Last year, 13 pedestrians and 4 bicyclists were killed in crashes with autos in the unincorporated areas of Hillsborough County, according to the sheriff's office. The count so far this year is better: one pedestrian killed and no cyclists.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner took note of the grim statistics in 2011 and asked the Metropolitan Planning Organization to study bike and pedestrian safety in unincorporated areas of the county. The planning organization hired engineering firm URS, which identified the 10 most dangerous road segments.

A year later, armed with the study, Beckner persuaded fellow commissioners to spend $8.5 million for improvements, including miles of new bike lanes and sidewalks, more street lights and "refuge islands" that provide safe havens when pedestrians have to cross without a traffic light.

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During an update at the June 19 commission meeting, Public Works chief Mike Williams said one project on the top 10 list, the restriping of bicycle lanes on Providence Road, was complete. Other projects are in design phase or ready for construction.

"We won't be complete, but there will be projects under construction this summer," Williams said Wednesday.

At the commission meeting, Beckner reiterated the need to better protect pedestrians and bicyclists. He asked Williams to report back on any other projects that the county could fund in fiscal 2014 to make dangerous streets safer.

"We know the reputation that our area has as it comes to pedestrian and bicycle accidents," Beckner said, "and we need to do what's in our authority and jurisdiction to reduce those accidents and to ensure with greater certainty the safety of our citizens that come here ... ."

URS compiled five years of pedestrian and bicyclist crash data at busy intersections in six study areas: University of South Florida, Carrollwood, Town 'N Country/Egypt Lake, Palm River, Citrus Park and Brandon. They came up with a top 10 list of the most dangerous segments:

? Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Fletcher Avenue to Tampa city limits.

? Bearss Avenue, Dale Mabry Avenue to 22nd Street.

? Providence Road.

? Waters Avenue, three segments stretching from Florida Avenue to Sheldon Road.

? Fletcher Avenue, North Boulevard to Florida Avenue.

? Hanley Road, Hillsborough Avenue to Waters Avenue.

? 56th Street, Fowler Avenue to Fletcher Avenue.

42nd Street, Fletcher Avenue to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

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On the advice of Williams, commissioners agreed to drop proposed medians on Fletcher Avenue between North Boulevard and Florida Avenue. Business owners were concerned the medians would block cars from turning into their stores and offices.

What's more, it turned out that this section of Fletcher was not really as perilous for bikers and walkers as originally thought. After the discussion with the business owners, Williams said county employees looked at crash numbers on the segment and discovered there had been just one bike crash and no pedestrian injuries there in the past seven years.

With so few crashes, Beckner asked how the road made the most dangerous list. Williams said transportation planners originally studied accidents on the road from North Boulevard to Nebraska Avenue, a longer segment.

"Within that corridor, there were a number of pedestrian and bicycle crashes, but they were east of Florida Avenue," Williams said, in a stretch maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Williams also advised commissioners to eliminate proposed bike lanes on Waters Avenue between Florida Avenue and Dale Mabry. The pavement and right of way on that section of Waters is narrow, Williams said, and buying enough property along the road to fit bike lanes would cost the county about $24 million.

Waters Avenue will get bike lanes, however, between Dale Mabry and Sheldon Road, Williams said. The project, which will include widening a bridge just east of Sheldon Road, will likely take two to three years to complete.

Once finished, bikers will have their own lanes on Waters Avenue from Dale Mabry to Countryway Boulevard.

On Hanley Road, Williams said, there was no room for bike lanes so the county will put share-the-road markings, called "sharrows," on the pavement to alert motorists that bikes may be traveling in the outside lanes. This segment, from Hillsborough Avenue to Waters Avenue, will also get pedestrian medians.

Other projects are designed to fill in missing sidewalk segments on 42nd Street, 56th Street and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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