Leaders focus on road design as Tampa Bay continues to be one of the most dangerous areas for pedestrians

A new report Tuesday ranks the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater metro area fourth in the country for the most dangerous roads for pedestrians, and transportation leaders shared what they are changing to help address the issue.

Tampa Bay drivers often see speed campaigns to slow down, but transportation planning leaders said it’s often short-lived. 

"If a police officer is out there writing tickets, people will slow down for a little while, but then they'll go back to their usual behaviors," said Chelsea Favero, the planning manager with Forward Pinellas.

That speed kills pedestrians, and it's such a problem that Florida and Tampa Bay are consistently ranked the worst in the country for pedestrian safety. Tampa Bay topped once again in the new Dangerous by Design report from Smart Growth America.

"Yes, it's very unfortunate. Two years ago, we were ranked seventh in the nation. We're ranked number four right now," said Favero.

Smart Growth America's report found the answer is changing how roads are made, and it shows the roads are wide and open for speeding.

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"When a driver makes a mistake, we blame the driver and not the design that tells the driver it's safe to go fast," said Beth Osborne, vice president for transportation at Smart Growth America. "But you better be able to respond to every problem along the way. That's impossible, and we hang our drivers out to dry after setting them up."

So design changes are on the to-do list in Hillsborough County.

"We have an overabundance of backlog of roads that need to be changed," said Gena Torres, an assistant director at the Hillsborough County Transportation Planning Organization. "Changing behaviors is tough, and I think that over time that will happen. But if we design our streets in a way that makes it hard to drive so quickly, and maybe we'll get more people out walking and cycling and be used to seeing these modes being used and maybe as drivers will be more respectful."

But Torres said it will take time to check off their top 50 list for highest injury areas.

"Those top 50, there's at least a handful that I can think of that the county specifically is focusing on like 78th Street in Palm River, 15th Street up in the USF area, Mango kind of the Thonotosassa area," said Torres.

Forward Pinellas said safety changes are coming to 34th Street South in St. Petersburg.

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"So the Department of Transportation is planning to resurface the roadway next year," said Favero. "And while they're out there, they're going to do sidewalk enhancements to make the sidewalk wider. They're going to improve the median."

The goal is to make pedestrians and drivers safer to no longer rank among the top on that kind of list.

The report also found more pedestrians of color and people from lower income areas were killed in than other groups.

"We also found that the inequities in terms of people of color do continue in a really unfortunate way. Black Americans are twice as likely to be killed, struck by a car when walking, and Native Americans three times more likely than white Americans to be killed while walking," said Osborne. "Well, when it comes to both people of color and people from lower income areas, we find that these are folks who have less access to a personal vehicle for every single person in the house.

Osborne said they also found the roads in underserved communities lead to more pedestrians getting hit and killed because the roads were designed as pass through areas for vehicles.

"It's folks coming from outside the community trying to get to something on the other side of their community. And the roadway is designed as a highway to shuttle them through the area as quickly as possible," said Osborne.

Hillsborough TPO said it’s working with the City of Tampa on a federal grant application to help narrow roads, add mid-block crosswalks and bike lanes along roads in the city and county.