By: Jessi Smith
The distinct metal clink and pressurized hiss of aerosol paint cans in action filled the air during the most recent Vision Zero Hillsborough workshop this spring, as more than 40 volunteers teamed up to create a bright green bike lane along the Bullard Parkway Bridge in Temple Terrace using temporary, non-toxic roadway-approved spray paint.
The Hillsborough MPO arranged the bridge painting project in collaboration with the City of Temple Terrace to stage a proactive, participatory demonstration of the ‘Paint Saves Lives’ Action Track — a cornerstone of the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist traffic death on Hillsborough streets.
‘Paint Saves Lives’ is one of four focus points in the Vision Zero campaign to: influence context-sensitive design for multimodal communities, spread impactful messaging for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about traffic safety, encourage equitable and consistent law enforcement, and to develop low-cost ‘pop-up’ design interventions that make more visible and protect the most vulnerable users of Tampa area roadways — cyclists and pedestrians.
“I loved the bridge painting activity because I think it has a lot of power. When it comes to what [Vision Zero] is really trying to achieve, every little thing that can be done to enhance driver awareness is huge — and that’s the benefit of the green paint,” says Margaret Kubilins, Tampa-based Complete Streets Traffic Engineer(ing Manager) for the Gulf Coast region with VHB.
“Motorists will notice it as they drive by. It may be just a split second, but all of a sudden, when they see green paint, hopefully they will instantaneously think ‘bicycle.’ It’s a way to enhance awareness at a subconscious level,” Kubilins adds. ??The need (to reduce) speed on Hillsborough roads
“If we had to push just one message, it would be that speed is deadly — and that appropriate driving means survival,” says Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres.
Torres notes that in motorist-to-motorist crashes, speed often plays the deciding role in whether vehicle occupants will survive — and that the odds of crash survival against a moving vehicle are rarely in favor of the folks who are traveling by bike or on foot.
“We have this problem — these incredibly high numbers of vulnerable users being killed — so we focus on them primarily [in Vision Zero],” says Hillsborough MPO Community Planner Wade Reynolds, “but lowering the speed and getting people to behave correctly and pay attention actually helps everybody out — motorists and pedestrians alike.”
Reynolds says that a primary initiative of the Vision Zero coalition is to identify high crash corridors in Hillsborough County and to strategize with public works officials and law enforcement the best practices to modify motorist behavior to cut back on speeding.
The Hillsborough MPO examines a three-mile crash corridor along Fletcher Avenue from Nebraska Avenue to 50th Street, where crash statistics compiled over two year-long periods indicate that speed-reductive adjustments to the roadway may have resulted in a nearly 50 percent decrease in pedestrian and cyclist traffic deaths.
The MPO collected traffic fatality data along the corridor from 2012-2013 and compared it with data collected in 2015-2016, following the completion in 2014 of a $4.5 million Complete Streets project by the FDOT and Hillsborough County public works. The Fletcher improvements included installation of pedestrian-activated Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs), bike lanes, pedestrian refuge medians, mid-block crosswalks and a speed limit reduction.
The MPO reports that pedestrian fatalities along the Fletcher Avenue corridor dropped from 48 in 2012-13 to 25 in 2015-2016.
While such statistics are encouraging, Reynolds notes, “these changes are easier to make when you’re designing from scratch, rather than trying to retrofit things that have already been built. Funding is always the challenge.”
Torres says, “the Vision Zero action plan is different from the projects public works and law enforcement are working on in that [public works projects] are long-term, expensive projects being implemented over time. Redesigning a complete street is at least five years away — and millions of dollars. Even though Vision Zero may want to do grandiose things, we’re looking at projects we can apply in one-, two- and five-year timelines.”
“We can’t know how many lives have been saved by the work public works departments already do — but we’re not done yet. We still have a problem, so we have to keep going, together, to solve it,” Torres adds.
Community-driven ‘pop-up’ solutions — applying a spray-painted bright green bike lane to attract cyclist awareness on the Bullard Parkway Bridge, for instance — are an answer to the obstacle of time and funding that Vision Zero encourages Hillsborough to explore.
Paint Your Intersection in South Seminole Heights
This summer, the South Seminole Heights neighborhood aims to be the first spot in Hillsborough County to claim ownership of a painted intersection. Following a two-year planning and negotiation process initiated by former South Seminole Heights Civic Association (SSHCA) President Donna Stark and District 1 City Councilman Mike Suarez, the South Seminole Heights ‘Paint Your Intersection’ project hopes to apply paint to asphalt in July — thus adding a splash of colorful street safety to the historic neighborhood.
The street mural will be installed at North River Boulevard and West Louisiana Avenue following a road resurfacing project by the City of Tampa Department of Transportation to ensure the mural’s longevity. The mural site is adjacent to Rivercrest Park, an area that SSHCA President Stephen Lytle says is frequented by pedestrians and cyclists — many of whom are children.
“Some neighbors had concerns about the corner right past [the location of the painted intersection]. We’re hoping the mural will be a traffic calming measure for pedestrian safety because neighbors are concerned with the speed of cars coming around that corner,” Lytle says, referring to a speed-heavy curve on North River at West Violet Avenue.
The concept? Colorful street art captures drivers’ attention, causing them to slow down and be more mindful of the urban landscape and its pedestrian inhabitants.
South Seminole Heights residents will vote on May 11 on the final design, and have the opportunity to join the artist in installing the mural this summer. If it achieves its goal of becoming the first neighborhood in Hillsborough to paint an intersection, South Seminole Heights will join St. Pete and Vision Zero partner, Ft. Lauderdale, in this vibrant, community-led traffic calming effort — the possibility of which is also under exploration by citizen coalitions in East Seminole Heights and the Channel District.
Parklets: pop-up pedestrian spaces in downtown Tampa
Downtown Tampa had a taste of ‘parklets’ — single streetside parking spots transformed, ‘pop-up’ style, into extended sidewalk spaces for social gathering — in the Channel District during the third annual Tampa Bay Design Week in November. This fall, the Tampa Downtown Partnership will introduce a pilot program with partnering Gensler that aims to create more lasting pop-up spaces for pedestrians through the installation of three semi-permanent parklets in the Central Business District and Channel District.
Rachel Radawec, executive administrative assistant with the Tampa Downtown Partnership who is leading the downtown parklet project, says the Tampa Bay Design Week parklet demos revealed a variety of innovative ways to re-imagine a more multimodal city.
“It’s this neat concept where you’re giving that spot to the people, and making it a gathering space for the neighborhood. People are primarily getting to these spaces by bike, or by happening upon them while they’re walking past,” says Radawec.
The ‘People’s Choice’-awarded parklet from Tampa Bay Design Week, designed by students from Hillsborough Community College, included a space made entirely of recycled materials including pallets and car tires, housing a shaded community library. Another innovative parklet featured a solar-powered shower for sweaty bike commuters or other folks in need of a rinse.
“These parklets create places for people to convene, to make a personal connection, and to really imagine and use their city in ways it wasn’t being used before,” says Radawec.
From a placemaking standpoint, parklets make a city cool: they can provide a space to gather with friends, to chow down on a Lyft or Uber-delivered meal-on-the-go, or to catch a business meeting in an al fresco conference space. They can also drive foot traffic into local businesses.
It’s no surprise parklets are a growing trend in Vision Zero cities including New York City, Portland and San Francisco. From a Vision Zero standpoint, parklets make cities safer and more accessible for countless pedestrians by transforming spaces otherwise occupied by just one car at a time. Parklets promote active and vibrant streets, thus encouraging urban exploration on foot. They provide pedestrian and cyclist refuge. They’re also something drivers will slow down to notice simply because they’re so cool: Radawec says parklets are sometimes mistaken as art installations at first glance, but stopping to actually utilize one reveals an entirely new experience with the built environment.
TECO has provided $12,000 to cover the cost of two commercial-grade steel bases, weighing in at approximately 600 lbs apiece, for the downtown parklet project. Radawec says the program hopes to launch in fall 2017 and run through spring, coinciding with the best outdoor weather months in Tampa.
Vision takes a village
The paint was still drying on the Bullard Parkway Bridge on April 25th when the Vision Zero team and Hillsborough residents convened in the space provided by the Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church to explore upcoming plans of action.
During the third Hillsborough Vision Zero workshop, the four teams who have been percolating proposals for the ‘Paint Saves Lives,’ ‘One Message, Many Voices,’ ‘Consistent and Fair’ and ‘The Future Will Not Be Like the Past’ Action Tracks unveiled their actionable plans to work toward Hillsborough County’s goal of zero pedestrian traffic fatalities.
Workshop attendees used stickers and Post-It notes to mark their support, criticisms and ideas for each Action Track. The Vision Zero team is in the process of reviewing the workshop responses to finalize strategies to execute over the upcoming year, two-year, and five-year periods.
“I was really pleasantly surprised that people came back after the Bullard Parkway painting and got just as engaged with the exercise that we were really there to explore. They gave great feedback on what would be the best things to implement first. I was happy about that alone: Each board had something that resonated with everybody,” says Torres.
“I worry that it can be hard to get out of the brainstorming circle, but people commented to me after this workshop to say, ‘I can see now where we’re going with it. We’re making progress; there are things happening,'” she adds.
The next Vision Zero workshop will take place on August 22, location TBA, and will be open to the public. Visit Vision Zero Hillsborough for upcoming workshop details, to share your story, and to take the Safe Driver Pledge.