USF students suggest transit improvements that include pedestrian and bike safety
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04/02/13 Janelle Irwin
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The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization wants residents to help make some transit decisions in the county. The MPO’s Lynn Merenda doled out markers and crayons during a summit at the University of South Florida Tuesday asking faculty and students to draw their ideas.

“… to get their ideas on how we can improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists and reduce crashes with cars, make the roads more user-friendly for everyone and what they would like to see as we move toward 2040 as well as improvements we could make in the near future now.”

The summit is part of what’s called the Complete Streets Project. Lisa Silva is a planner with the MPO.

“Most of the roads are designed to at least accommodate the vehicular traffic like the cars and trucks, but we want to consider the alternative modes of transportation as well, like the bicyclists and the pedestrians. We all start off as a pedestrian before we get into something and we end as a pedestrian, but a lot of our roadways aren’t complete in that they don’t have bike lanes or sidewalks or transit modes accommodated along the way.”

Making it easier to get around the USF-area without a car was a common theme among students. Greg Wance is a graduate student who runs a program on the Tampa campus that lets students check out a bike for a full day.

“Parking here is atrocious. Any USF student will tell you that parking here is just terrible, so we want to encourage students to get out, get active, also stay healthy.”

USF has pedestrian and bike crossings all around campus to make sure people are safe out of their cars. But venture outside the campus and things get pretty nasty. According to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tampa Bay region is one of the most dangerous places in the country to walk or ride a bike. Part of the Complete Streets Project includes adding bike lanes. But The Sierra Club’s Phil Compton wants the county to go a little further.

“It’s not enough to put down a white stripe and paint a bike logo and say, ‘there’s a bike lane, it’s now safe for you to ride along side traffic.’ We need to do what a lot of communities have done like St. Petersburg where the end of the Pinellas trail through downtown St. Pete – put in a little concrete curb or pylons, some kind of physical bike barrier that separates vehicular traffic from bicycle traffic.”

Michael Schwade came from across the bay in Pinellas to give planners some tips. He agreed that physical barriers need to be in place to keep cyclists like him safe, arguing that sometimes dedicated bike lanes actually cause motorists to get even closer. But he also wants planning to include changes to the way traffic signals change.

“Today, when a car gets to a light, it’s like instant gratification. They hit the switch, the light turns. There is not enough time for a bicyclist to stop. The yellows are controlled – I’ve spoken to the engineers – they are set by the speed limit. So, there’s enough time for, when the signal turns yellow, for a vehicle to make it through the intersection. That is not the same speed as a bicyclist goes – a bicycle is going maybe half the speed.”

There are some projects that are already funded, like pedestrian and bike improvements down Fletcher Avenue and other roads in the USF area. But many proposed improvements are still waiting for a green light. MPO planner Randy Kranjec has been working on a circulator that could be implemented in dense areas like Westshore or USF.

“The vehicles would be smaller, kind of like – maybe half the size of a full size bus – and they hopefully run more frequently also – maybe every 15 minutes – so that if you miss one, you don’t have to stand around for a half an hour or more and you know, ‘well, I missed it and in another ten minutes another one will be here.’”

According to Kranjec, even though there isn’t funding yet, there are federal grants available to buy the buses for a circulator route. The challenge would then be paying for operational costs. Kranjec said plans could be implemented within 5 years around USF if the county can get some funding partners.

“The Moffitt Center, Florida Hospital, even the Veterans to a degree, they’ve run out of parking. They’re such busy and heavily utilized places that they’re currently shuttling some of their employees from off site parking onto their site to save room for the patients that come in and need the parking. They’ve run out of parking.”

The summit focused on improvements to roads, but planners with the MPO said including rail in some areas is in their long range plan. Last month the Hillsborough County Commission approved starting to workshop ideas on how to improve multi-modal transit in the area.



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