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A lane less on Ashley Drive?
By MIKE BRASSFIELD
Published June 27, 2007
TAMPA - With all the congested roads around here, it's rare for the government to take away a lane of traffic.
And yet, that's what Tampa proposes to do in order to make downtown's Ashley Drive more pedestrian-friendly.
The city's plan, which isn't final, got a mixed reception Tuesday night from about 80 people at a meeting downtown. Many of them want the street to become even narrower than the city is planning. They want Tampa to think big, and find a way to redirect traffic away from Ashley.
The ultimate question: Should Ashley cater more to pedestrians or cars?
The city had originally considered narrowing the street from six lanes to four. But a hotly debated traffic study concluded that rush-hour traffic would likely back up onto Interstate 275 within six years.
So the city compromised, with a plan to make Ashley five lanes wide, dropping a northbound lane but keeping all the southbound ones that feed traffic into downtown.
"We do not think it's likely we'll be able to eliminate a southbound lane, " said David Vaughn, director of the city's contracts administration department.
City officials have been grappling with how to make this major thoroughfare less hostile to pedestrians. Downtown residents will largely be living east of Ashley, but they'll want access to current and future cultural amenities on the west side of the street.
On Ashley's west side, along with the existing library and performing arts center, there will be a Riverwalk, a new art museum, children's museum and waterfront park.
Some other elements of the city's plan for Ashley:
- Make the remaining lanes a bit narrower.
- Shorten the pedestrian crossings by 20 to 25 percent. "We're shaving 10 to 12 feet off the distance to get across the street, " Vaughn said.
- Widen the sidewalks and medians, and make the medians more inviting.
- Eventually increase the canopy of shade trees.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena and a business group, the Tampa Downtown Partnership, had been campaigning for a four-lane Ashley.
Somewhat reluctantly, the partnership has agreed to back the five-lane plan.
"At this point, we feel like this is as good as we're going to get, " said Karen Kress, the partnership's director of transportation.
The city's next step will be to further refine the design of the street and its lighting and landscaping. More public hearings will be held. Vaughn predicts that construction won't start until after the Super Bowl in January 2009.