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The Story of Sterling Avenue: Getting over the Hump

Driving down Sterling Avenue north of Plant High School, cars slow to pass over a series of speed tables.

The City of Tampa says this sign, the only speed deterrent on Sterling Avenue, is not enforceable.

The City of Tampa says this sign, the only speed deterrent on Sterling Avenue, is not enforceable.

Driving down Sterling Avenue to the south, particularly south of Bay to Bay Blvd., it’s a different story – with no stop signs, no crosswalks, and not even enforceable speed limit signs, there is no deterrent to excessive speeding.

Who took speed tables off the table on Tampa streets?

Speed tables, or speed humps, are long, flat speed bumps designed to slow but not halt traffic, typically 6 feet long and 3 to 4 inches high. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, installing speed tables can reduce crash incidents by 45%. They have been popularly used in large US cities, including Oakland, CA, Austin, TX, and New York City. Other countries, including the UK and Australia have used speed tables more widely.

Ben Donnell on Sterling Avenue and sees people speed past his house daily. “My concern is [Corona] park. Kids walk there by themselves and there are a lot of people with strollers,” he says. Donnell called the City of Tampa to look into installing speed tables on Sterling Avenue.

However, funding for speed tables as a traffic calming measure has been eliminated, Donnell discovered. The City recommends only speed limit enforcement, in spite of the fact that there no posted speed limits on Sterling.

This leaves residents near Sterling with a couple of options: request regular police presence on this street (an unlikely use of police resources) or initiate and fund a speed table project as a neighborhood.

Donnell lays out the process as explained to him by City officials:

  • Enlist neighborhood association support for the project, specifically financial support.
  • Petition the City to have speed tables installed – this would need resident buy-in
  • Get a work permit of the City (including approval from emergency services)
  • Hire a city-approved contractor to construct speed tables

After hearing Donnell’s concerns, the City of Tampa will be conducting a two-week traffic study of Sterling Ave. between Bay to Bay and El Prado sometime in the next two months.

This section of Sterling lacks any traffic calming measures. People rarely park on Sterling and the paving is smooth. Not only are there zero stop signs for this half-mile stretch, there are not even any crosswalks to guide students walking or biking to Roosevelt Elementary, Plant High School, or middle school bus stops or to help people reach Corona Park, popular especially with young children.

With Tampa ranking as one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the United States, with a rise in the number of children in this neighborhood using Sterling Avenue to access public schools and a public park, with data clearly demonstrating the link between speed and car crash incidents, it is time to take a closer look at the kind of traffic calming measures the City of Tampa employs in our neighborhoods.

Make speed tables, proven-effective internationally and locally, part of the solution. 

Check out the recent WFLA story about Sterling Avenue speeders.

Sidewalk Stompers Wins Planning Commission Community Engagement Award

The Sidewalk Stompers are proud to announce that the Hillsborough County Planning Commission's 35th Annual Planning & Design Awards program has honored us with an Outstanding Contribution to the Community award for 2017.

 

Sidewalk Stompers founders Emily Hinsdale, Tim Scheu and Vanessa Rukholm, along with Roosevelt Elementary School Principal Christina Dickens attended the award ceremony on Oct. 19th.

 

"We were honored to be in the room with so many remarkable people in the planning community who have put together incredible projects ranging from 'complete street' initiatives to public art installations. We are very proud of the Sidewalk Stompers, the Roosevelt PTA, Palma Ceia businesses and especially the wonderful Roosevelt students and parents for their hard work, turning a weekly Walk to School into a neighborhood initiative that can truly engender positive steps toward building safer routes to school," says Emily Hinsdale.

 

Thank you to the Planning Commission for the award. Thank you to Walk Bike Tampa, Lisa Silva, and Cindy Stuart for their encouragement and support.

 

Thank you Roosevelt Elementary School! Can't wait to see where we can walk together next!

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Palma Ceia Residents & Roosevelt Parents on Danger of Bay to Bay Blvd

Palma Ceia residents and Roosevelt Elementary School parents who must cross Bay to Bay to reach the school share their thoughts:

Monica O’Flanagan, Palma Ceia resident and Roosevelt Elementary parent:
“We have been walking to Roosevelt with two of our children for 8 years now. We have witnessed countless close calls between pedestrians and cars, accidents and discourteous driving at the intersection of Bay to Bay and Concordia.  It is still shocking to me that there are no safety precautions in place to protect elementary-aged children walking to school. Walking to school provides exercise to students (and parents!), reduces traffic congestion through our neighborhoods, encourages community interaction and is a small step in reducing our carbon footprint. This should be encouraged and our children should feel safe.”

Monica Chandler, Palma Ceia resident and Roosevelt Elementary parent:
“I have experienced countless incidents where cars run the red light, turn quickly off Bay to Bay without yielding, or simply don’t pay attention to the pedestrian traffic at that corner. It has been enough to cause me to not walk my children to school. [The Concordia and Bay to Bay] corner is the safest light to cross Bay to Bay, yet it is still not safe.”

Nicki Rawlings, Roosevelt Elementary parent:
“[My daughter] attends Roosevelt Elementary IPEEPS (ESE-Special Education) program. We walk daily from our home on Bayshore Blvd to the school via Macdill to Bay to Bay to Ferdinand.  A direct route to the school is not more readily available because of the railroad tracks and Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  The 15-minute walk entails crossing Macdill and crossing the exit ramp from the Crosstown as it approaches Bay to Bay.  Because drivers are allowed to ‘yield’ if they are making a right hand turn and drivers are allowed to exit the expressway at high speeds, often times, despite the pedestrian signal in my favor, I am met by a speeding vehicle making the curve without realization that they need to stop for persons in the crosswalk. Additionally, often times drivers block the pedestrian crosswalk trying to merge into traffic on Bay to Bay.”

Lori Jennis, Palma Ceia resident and Roosevelt Elementary parent:
“We have walked our children to Roosevelt Elementary for the past six years and have often witnessed near-miss accidents involving pedestrians, car-to-car collisions that could cause secondary impacts to pedestrians, and just plain ignorant drivers unaware that it is the only designated school crossing point on Bay to Bay Blvd.

"The Concordia – Bay to Bay intersection is a multiple threat collision point as it currently exists. There are poorly marked crosswalks, limited pedestrian crossing signals, and no crossing guards or Slow Motor Vehicle Speed Limits during school hours.  I am amazed to see crossing guards, speed restrictions, flashing beacons, and other high visibility deterrents when traveling through other school crossing zones on mere two-lane city roads.

“Besides the imminent threat of a pedestrian or child’s death, what will it take to improve this major school crosswalk to national DOT/FHWA standards?

An Open Letter in Favor of an Optimized, Three-Lane Bay to Bay Boulevard

To Whom it May Concern:

Sidewalk Stompers, a parent-led, Palma-Ceia-based organization focused on safe pedestrian pathways to school, is in strong support of a redesigned Bay to Bay Blvd that reduces the number of car lanes to incorporate dedicated bicycle lanes and a central turning lane. Improving Bay to Bay’s function is essential to the future success of our school-focused pedestrian project.

Sidewalk Stompers promotes walking/biking to school as a healthy, community-building activity for our neighborhood children. In concert with the Roosevelt Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, we hold monthly Walk to School Wednesday events, where we have seen a more than 2x increase in participation. Our school has been commended by the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the school board for our efforts to provide a responsible path for getting children to school.

However, outdated and non-existent road safety infrastructure has proven a major impediment. School pedestrian programs cannot grow if students cannot safely walk along school routes.

Bay to Bay Blvd. is a significant barrier, bisecting the neighborhood of Palma Ceia. Residents on the north side of Bay to Bay must cross four lanes of traffic to reach their children’s district-assigned elementary school, Roosevelt. The crossing is particularly daunting during morning rush hour, as sunrise dangerously limits eastbound traffic visibility.

Sidewalk Stompers has made every effort to increase safety at crossings on Bay to Bay Blvd. We have educated the children about pedestrian safety rules and laws as well as common sense efforts to reduce risk. We have instituted a “flag bucket program,” providing students with large, orange traffic flags to make them more visible crossing the street. We have requested that our decades out-of-date traffic lights be replaced with current approved models.

A three-lane approach that serves a similar volume of traffic, while better ensuring pedestrian and bicycle safety seems the obvious solution.

We are asking Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa to include the needs of Bay to Bay area school children in any planning. Reformatting this dangerous road as a three-lane route with bike access and well-marked and updated crosswalks is essential to our neighborhood and our children.

Sincerely,

Sidewalk Stompers

RelatedPalma Ceia Residents & Roosevelt Parents On Danger Of Bay To Bay Blvd

Considering Safety First

(This piece was originally published as a Guest Column in the April 23, 2017 Print Edition of the Tampa Tribune.) 

New Bell Schedule Increases Pressure on Sub-Standard Student Pathways to School

By Emily L. Hay Hinsdale & Tim Scheu

You’re 11 years old. You’re standing on the sidewalk by a four-lane highway, speed limit 40mph. The challenge: Reach the other side of the highway through rush hour traffic and make it to school by 9:30a.m. Ready?

No, this isn’t a video game; this is the proposed plan to get Hillsborough County students to school starting this fall.

According to a recent report by Smart Growth America, the Tampa Bay area is already one of the top 10 most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians. With diminished school busing already assumed, the proposed bell schedule changes only exacerbate that challenge and increase pressure on the region’s road safety infrastructure to protect kids accessing public education.

Should the school district’s proposed bell schedule changes meet with the school board’s approval on April 25th, here is what morning school transportation will look like for district students:

  1. High School, 7:15a.m. Transportation options include an increasingly limited supply of school buses, rides with parents or via their own cars, public transportation, and walking/biking. For a portion of the year, students will be on the way to school in the dark, crossing highways and roads with no sidewalks, faded or non-existent crosswalks, few traffic lights, and no crossing guards.

  2. Middle School, 9:30a.m. Transportation options are the same for middle schoolers as for high schoolers, minus student drivers. With a mid-morning start time, well after most parents’ jobs start, many 11-14-year-old students will be reaching school by themselves, traveling as far as (just under) 2 miles across highways and through rush-hour traffic.

  3. Elementary School, 8:30a.m. Most elementary schools will have limited to non-existent school busing options next year, meaning that students will arrive at school by walking/biking or being driven by parents. As with middle school students, children whose parents’ jobs begin before 8:30a.m. will be approaching schools by themselves.

There is an opportunity here for the school board, school district, Hillsborough County and City of Tampa to work in concert for a goal that should be desired by all: responsibly and safely moving students from their homes to their schools. As the law of the land requires children to attend school, it becomes a job for all of us to make it safe for them to do so.

Many safety measures are simple, but will require appropriate budgeting buy-in from our elected representatives: include pedestrian safety education in school programs, bring crosswalks on school walking routes up to current code, install more effective signage around school zones that is clear for pedestrians and drivers, mandate sidewalk construction near schools, and provide more responsive crossing lights near schools.

District officials are under pressure to operate responsibility, ensuring that revenues cover the cost of school bussing. They’ve demonstrated creativity in offering a new, albeit controversial, bell schedule. It would seem similarly prudent to ensure that safe pathways for our kids are also in place. It’s not clear how they model the cost of student fatalities, but accidents like that can’t help the bottom line.

We urge our city, county, and school representatives to take a proactive approach to student transportation. Prioritize discussions about student safety before the vote on April 25. Consider the suite of needed infrastructure improvements. Imagine yourself or your kids in the shoes of that 11-year-old, approaching that four-lane highway. What’s it going to take to make you feel safe?  

Emily L. Hay Hinsdale and Tim Scheu are two of the Co-Founders of Sidewalk Stompers, a Tampa-based effort powering community building and safer pedestrian pathways via school-based walking programs and public advocacy. For more information see www.sidewalkstompers.org.