TAMPA (FOX 13) - The uncle of a woman and her young daughter who were killed crossing Bayshore Boulevard in late May spoke publicly for the first time Thursday, urging Tampa City Councilmembers to make the city's streets safer.
Fighting back tears at times, John Reisinger read a prepared statement on behalf of his family.
"We would like to begin by expressing our gratitude to all the good people of Tampa and your ongoing efforts to improve pedestrian safety on Bayshore Boulevard. Your work and selflessness are carrying us through this devastating time," Reisinger said.
He went on to praise the work of law enforcement, who have been targeting speeding drivers on Bayshore since the crash in late May that killed Reisinger's niece, Jessica Raubenolt, 24, and her 21-month old daughter, Lillia.
Investigators have said a teenager was racing another teen down Bayshore, driving 103 miles an hour moments before the crash.
"There is a desensitization that has occurred where clearly pedestrians are viewed as not having the right of way. The fact that street racing is a common issue in Tampa further highlights the total disregard and disrespect for pedestrians," Reisinger said. "A cultural shift is necessary. No more speeding in pedestrian zones. No more street racing. We cannot stress enough the urgency in stopping irresponsibly drivers from making fatal mistakes. Do not underestimate the number of lives you can save."
A long line of homeowners and business owners echoed Reisinger's sentiments during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"How many more people have to die to actually tell us that the changes need to be now?" asked Zhenya Nichol, who lives on Bayshore Boulevard, seven blocks from where the accident happened. "What happened on Knights [Avenue] could happen to me, to my family, to anybody in Tampa."
Since the deadly crash, the city lowered the speed limit from 40 to 35 miles an hour. A series of lighted crosswalks are expected to be installed later this year.
Several speakers also urged the city to consider making immediate changes to Bay to Bay Boulevard, which connects to Bayshore.
"We walk along it and cross it to walk our kids to school and go to the coffee shops and ice cream parlors and pizza shops as well as trying to access Bay to Bay and it's very unsafe," said Taylor Ralph.
The city's Complete Streets project will impact the design of Bay to Bay. According to Jean Duncan, the Transportation and Stormwater Services Director, the plan is to rework several intersections on Bay to Bay, including the one that connects to Bayshore, while reducing the size of the lanes.
Engineers believe this will slow down traffic while providing more space between the roadway and businesses.
The city considered, but ultimately scrapped, a plan to downsize Bay to Bay to three lanes, with a designated turning lane in the middle and added bike lanes.
Councilman Harry Cohen joined a growing number of business leaders calling on the city to reconsider the idea.
"These really work well, when we go from four to three. And even though they are somewhat counter-intuitive, they're very, very good for moving the traffic along. It works on Nebraska, it works on Himes and I wish we would take another look at that," Cohen said.
The leaders of several activist groups in Tampa that promote safe streets are planning to meet Friday morning at 8 a.m. at the Oxford Exchange to discuss how they will proceed following the city council meeting.