Planners look to transform Tampa's East Hillsborough Avenue corridor
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05/15/13 Samuel Johnson
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday

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Regional planners are looking at ways to revamp an important urban corridor along Hillsborough Avenue in East Tampa. Tuesday at the Cyrus Green Recreational Center some 20 people gathered to listen to a progress report and offer their suggestions.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, commissioned a study on traffic congestion and safety. It identified the East Hillsborough Avenue corridor as an area with motorized and non-motorized safety and mobility concerns. Christopher Keller, Senior Planner at Tindale-Oliver and Associates, the consulting firm studying the corridor, said the foot and bicycle traffic is the primary focus.

”Part of the big thing that's come from the MPO's Congestion Management and Crash Mitigation Process...and one of the goals in there is to reduce severe crashes. So that's really a big focus of what we're looking at for this corridor. With a really strong focus on bicycle and pedestrian crashes.”

The city of Tampa is working on a similar project examining the Nebraska Avenue corridor. It overlaps the East Hillsborough Avenue Corridor Project. Although both have similar ambitions, Gena Torres, Congestion and Crash Mitigation Program Coordinator for MPO, said there are distinctions between the two.

”the city's InVision Plan a little bit; definitely on the road...they are looking at this almost more economic development and infill and redevelopment this corridor that heads into down town. So they're looking at the land uses around the corridor and how to make businesses thrive there where can they park. Some of those things we; we pretty much focus on the road in our studies.”

Ultimately the project revolves around the human factor of the residents who use the East Hillsborough Avenue corridor. Essie Sims Jr., chair of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership, suggested the success of the project is intertwined between the Department of Transportation and the community residents

”dangerous stretch of road for many of our pedestrians in our community and residents which cause their...one, I think they have to look at reducing the speed limit out there on that road. Two, we have to figure out, as they were saying here tonight, how can we control or get the pedestrians of our community to become more aware of where to cross and when to cross. And so, we are out here today to gather information and give our input as well as to how we can best disseminate this information to our residents.”

The project focuses on functional improvements. However, some residents say the improvements should be more than just pragmatic alterations. Frank Roder, chair of Tampa's Community Development Block Grant Citizen's Advisory Committee, said the corridor should be a welcome banner to the city not a reminder why you're leaving.

”You've got Hillsborough Avenue and you go fast because it's ugly. There's nothing to look at. It's ugly. It's a wasteland. And I think that's contributing to some of the pedestrian problems. I think it contributes to a lot of stuff. People don't want to...they just want to get past it.”

The MPO and the consulting firms are faced with retro-fitting the current situation. Demain Miller, an Associate Principal at Tindale-Oliver & Associates, said the area would have looked different with a functioning mass transit system like light rail.

”the challenge in that area right around the rail road tracks just between 22nd and 30th street basically. In the context of all that redevelopment I think you would see a real market pressure and a real policy push to really make that a much more walkable urban environment. And you would have the land uses in the places out there to really justify and...it would be an open a shut case. Whereas, right now when it's sort of auto oriented commercial, freight, warehousing, manufacturing with trucks, it's a lot more pull and push to make the corridor walkable and pedestrian friendly.”

The East Hillsborough Avenue Corridor Transformation Project encompasses both short and long range plans. Things like reducing the speed limit or repainting the fading cross walks can be completed with in 4 years. But the MPO’s Gena Torres said some improvements will take longer to implement.

”I don't see that happening anytime before ten 'til fifteen years if it's embraced and they like the plan and we move forward with that. I just...well, mostly for funding not because there's...anyone is digging their heels in. I think it's just mostly for funding...You have to design and really vet the project and figure out how much it's going to cost.”

This was the second meeting for the East Hillsborough Avenue Corridor Transformation Project Before the findings are completed by the end of the year there will be a third community meeting and workshop.

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