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.