Tampa Transit Activists & Neighborhood Leaders

Originally Posted on Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA, FLORIDA – The battle over Bayshore Boulevard is heating up.

This week, transit activists launched a petition to turn Bayshore into a scenic drive by lowering the speed limit on the north-south South Tampa artery to 25 mph.

Some are also advocating for shutting down the two easternmost lanes closest to the water transforming the boulevard into a two-lane road.

As of 2 p.m., 257 people had signed the petition on change.org.

After last week’s tragic pedestrian deaths of a mother and young daughter, the city lowered the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph. And city traffic engineers were speeding the pace on additional pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and other safety improvements.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, though, resisted efforts to link the tragedy on Bayshore to other safer street initiatives, including Bay to Bay Boulevard.

The incident has sparked outrage and grief across the city. Plans to build a memorial lilly garden for the victims, Jessica Raubenolt, 24, and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia, are taking shape.

Meanwhile, Bayshore Beautiful Homeowner’s Association voted Wednesday evening to hire off-duty Tampa police to crack down on speeders along the neighborhood’s eastern border — Bayshore between West El Prado Boulevard and Gandy Boulevard.

The association will spend $2,500 initially to hire one officer, said president Chelsea Johnson, adding residents felt compelled to help make the thoroughfare safer.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Deaths on Bayshore Boulevard

Originally Posted on Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA, FLORIDA – The battle for the future of Bayshore Boulevard has begun.

Will the iconic thoroughfare become a two-lane scenic highway with its eastern lanes closed for all but special occasions as cars slowly glide by stately homes along Hillsborough Bay?

Or will the north-south artery connecting MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa and beyond remain an appealing option for commuters?

Can it be both? Some activists say yes, envisioning a true waterfront park with plenty of space for pedestrians and bikers.

Others say the street-racing young men accused of killing a 24-year-old mother and her toddler daughter there last week would have ignored any speed limit. They say the tragic deaths of Jessica Raubenolt and Lillia were the result of negligence and the boulevard should be left as it is.

City Council member Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa and is running for mayor, has heard plenty of both sentiments: “It runs the gamut,” Cohen said Wednesday.

Jean Duncan, the city’s transportation and stormwater services director, said she understands the passions aroused by the deaths but contends the city has limited options.

Don’t tell that to two Hyde Park men — Alex Engelman, 35, a physician, and Nick Friedman. 36, founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk — who have joined forces to lead an online petition aimed at making significant changes to Bayshore Boulevard.

Friedman launched a change.org petition this week to lower the speed limit to 25 mph, install flashing pedestrian crosswalks at each of the street’s dozens of intersections and require stepped-up traffic enforcement, including cameras.

By late Wednesday, the petition had more than 300 signatures.

“Bayshore is touted as the crown jewel of Tampa, as a linear park, but the road itself is a highway,” Friedman said.

Engelman recently launched a website — takebackbayshore.com — that calls for shutting down the two waterside lanes between West Hawthorne Road, just north of Gandy Boulevard, and West Swann Avenue. Metal gates would be installed at those points and at 33 intersections on the grassy median to create a safe space for bikers and pedestrians while allowing for occasional traffic — like emergency vehicles.

“Unfortunate tragedies have transpired and a lot of people are fed up. A lot of people are drawing inspiration from recent events,” Engelman said. “It’s a different solution. It’s a different time and there are different voices.”

After last week’s fatal collision, the city lowered the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph and promised to quicken the pace of more safety measures, including more flashing crosswalks, narrower lanes and bike lanes.

But the city has to weigh safety concerns of pedestrians and bikers against the needs of commuters and drivers, the city’s Duncan said.

“We can’t just dismiss that and discard that,” she said.

Daily traffic volume fluctuates, but by any measure it’s a heavily traveled roadway with up to 43,000 vehicles per day at its busiest stretch near West Platt Street.

Installing flashing crosswalks at every intersection would create “basically a gridlock situation,” Duncan said.

Bayshore’s design has to integrate with other parts of the city and county, she said.

“We can’t have drastically different types of approaches. Otherwise it will cause driver confusion.”

Shuttering the two waterside lanes, Duncan said, won’t happen under Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s administration.

“That’s a pretty drastic change,” she said. “That may be up to the next administration to tackle.”

Meantime, frustration builds among those who want to see Tampa become a more walkable city, said Christine Acosta, executive director of Walk Bike Tampa, a transit advocacy group.

“Everyone is exacerbated and frustrated with the slow movement toward a new Bayshore,” Acosta said.

Acosta would like to see the current energy channeled into strategic thinking. Short-term goals, she said, should include narrower lanes, flashing crosswalks and “vertical delineators” — long strips topped by reflectors that separate bike lanes from traffic and slow vehicle speeds.

Longer term, the boulevard should see a “complete overhaul,” including the closure of the waterside lanes, she said.

Duncan said a thoughtful, deliberate approach is needed to address the concerns about Bayshore but she insists this shouldn’t be seen as indifference.

“We care. We want to be responsive.”

The next round in the battle for Bayshore is set for June 28. The City Council plans to discuss proposed safer street measures then, known as Complete Streets.

A large crowd is expected.

Toddler Dies of Injuries

Originally Posted on WFTS Action News

TAMPA, FLORIDA – Police say street racing led to the death of a mother and toddler struck by a vehicle while on Bayshore Boulevard. Three people are facing charges.

According to Tampa Police, two cars were street racing down Bayshore Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon when one of the vehicles struck the mother who was pushing her child in a stroller near W. Knights Avenue in Tampa.

Tampa police say the mother, Jessica (Reisinger) Raubenolt, 24, and her 2-year-old child, Lillia Raubenolt, were sent to the hospital with serious injuries. Raubenolt, of Jeromesville, Ohio, died at the hospital on Wednesday.

The infant, Lilia, sustained serious injuries but tragically passed away Thursday evening.

“We’re devastated. It’s a tragic crash that didn’t need to happen. It could have been avoided,” said Kim Degance, President of the Palma Ceia Neighborhood Association.

Police say that 18-year-old Cameron Herrin was driving a black Mustang with 20-year-old Tristan Christopher Herrin in the passenger seat. The two were reportedly engaging in a street race with a Nissan driven by 17-year-old John Alexander Barrineau. Witnesses said that at times the cars were side by side, and at other times they switched places and switched lanes. They were estimated to be going approximately 60 miles per hour.

The Mustang driven by Cameron Herrin ended up striking the victims, who were attempting to lawful cross the pedestrian ramp at the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and W Knights Avenue.

Street Racing Blamed for Mother’s Death

Originally Posted on WFLA News Channel 8

TAMPA, FLORIDA – Street racing is being blamed for a crash that killed a mother pushing her daughter in a stroller along Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard on Wednesday.

The victim, here from Ohio to see her uncle, crossed Bayshore at Knights Avenue.

Two cars speeding north approached. One hit her, sending her and her baby girl flying.

Along one of Tampa’s most picturesque roads, sadness and raw emotion.

Tampa police tell us Cameron Herrin was speeding in a Ford Mustang with Tristan Herrin in the passenger seat.

Driving next to them in a Nissan was John Barrineau.

Witnesses say they were switching lanes and places.

At Knights Avenue, they say Herrin hit 24-year-old Jessica Reisinger as she was pushing her 21-month old daughter, Lillia Raubenolt, in a stroller.

Jessica died. Lillia has serious injuries.

Rick Harb’s wife usually pushes their new daughter along Bayshore. He had a moment of panic when he heard about the crash.

“It’s definitely a scary thing. Especially as a new father, haven’t felt that before, but ya know Bayshore is usually pretty safe,” said Harb.

“We see speeders constantly, drag racing, playing chicken,” said Gloria Giunta.

She lives in a condo that looks out at Bayshore.

“I’d like to walk my dogs right out front, but I’m afraid someone’s going to flip right into our front yard,” she said.

Bayshore neighbor Pam Rodriguez hears screeching tires and sometimes crashes from her fourth floor unit.

“I used to walk along the bay itself. But A, it takes so long to get across, and B, traffic is going so fast, I’m terrified they’re going to jump the curb,” said Rodriguez.

A brief thrill for two drivers, and now a little girl will grow up without her mother.