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Panel: Slower Bayshore safer

A task force recommends slowing Bayshore Boulevard traffic with new stoplights, lower speeds and fewer lanes.

By DAVID KARP
Published May 27, 2004

TAMPA - From the southern tip of Bayshore Boulevard, downtown glimmers in the distance. The drive north unfolds in one glorious stretch of asphalt.

Motorists whiz past mansions on the left, and a stream of sweaty joggers on the right.

For nearly 5 miles, a driver can cruise without interruption.

The Bayshore Task Force, formed to make the road safer, wants to end that.

The task force said Wednesday the city should install three new stoplights to slow drivers on their ride downtown.

They also recommended reducing the number of traffic lanes from six to four and lowering the speed limit to 35 mph.

After another meeting June 9, the recommendations will go to Mayor Pam Iorio, who will decide the city's official position. Iorio created the task force on Feb. 4, a day after a Bayshore motorcyclist collided with 39-year-old jogger Melissa McKenzie, killing her.

Many regard Bayshore as the city's most beautiful roadway. It's also a speedway, despite thousands of parents pushing strollers, early-morning joggers getting in runs, and couples strolling at sunset along the 4.5-mile waterfront sidewalk.

To get to the sidewalk, they must cross as many as six lanes of traffic.

"I know that my neighborhood needs a safe way to cross Bayshore," said Geoffrey Meyer, president of Hyde Park Preservation Inc. "Because right now, we don't have one."

To fix that, the group recommended 21 improvements, including three traffic lights in these waterside lanes:

Bay to Bay Boulevard. The intersection, adjacent to public parking, is a popular crossing for pedestrians. Drivers heading south on Bayshore from downtown already stop at a light.

Howard Avenue. It draws traffic from nearby apartments, restaurants and bars.

Platt Street, near Publix. Cars heading in three directions come together at this point, before crossing a bridge into downtown.

The task force also wants the city to consider stopping traffic in two new locations: at Rome Avenue, near Hyde Park Village Shopping Center, and at Swann Avenue, near the Bank of Tampa building.

At a meeting Wednesday, residents who live along Bayshore argued forcefully for more lights.

"A person's life is far more important than my need to get where I am going to go in a hurry," said Anna Thomas, a past president of Hyde Park Preservation Inc.

For the same reason, they pressed for the lower speed limit, currently 40 mph in most spots.

Reducing it would add less than a minute to someone's drive, said Meyer, the Hyde Park resident.

City traffic engineer Debbie Herrington cautioned that lowering the speed limit would not necessarily make people slow down.

To really reduce speeding, she said, the city would have to narrow the boulevard and create a canopy of trees.

There's no money budgeted for that.

Already, the city is applying for a $2.1-million grant to reduce the number of lanes on Bayshore, in order to widen medians. But the state grant - if the city gets it - won't pay for the whole project.

At Wednesday's meeting, few residents argued for keeping the 40 mph speed limit. No one opposed the new stoplights, although there was a murmur that the driving public would not like the idea.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor said she had heard from people who want Bayshore's breezy drive to remain the same.

"We have tried to be very sensitive to the need for vehicular traffic on Bayshore," said Steve Daignault, the city's public works administrator and chairman of the Bayshore Task Force. "I believe the group is really struggling with that and has tried to temper their recommendations."

The group's other recommendations include:

Building sidewalks along the entire residential side of Bayshore.

Adding a bicycle lane on the southbound, residential side of Bayshore.

Installing a stop sign for drivers heading downtown as they leave the Davis Islands bridge.

Creating more turn lanes on Bayshore, especially near Davis Islands and on Rome Avenue by Hyde Park.

Developing a citywide campaign to promote safe driving.

The task force will meet again at 8:30 a.m. June 9 at Kate Jackson Recreation Center at 821 S Rome Ave. to vote on eight more proposals.

- David Karp can be reached at 813 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 01:00:38]


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