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Driving Tampa Bay Forward | Road improvements planned after record number of fatal crashes

A record-high 255 fatal crashes in Hillsborough County last year.
Road safety improvements 2022
Posted at 9:08 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 23:18:26-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough Transportation and Planning Organization reported 255 vehicle-related deaths in 2021. The agency is working with the City of Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to make roads safer in 2022.

Safety improvements are already underway, but not everyone is satisfied with the progress made, so far.

“What is it really going to take for something to happen?" Valerie Jones said.

On Oct. 6, 2015, Jones's daughter, Alexis Miranda, and a friend walked onto Busch Boulevard in an unmarked crosswalk making their way to class at Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Florida.

“They (driver) used the turning lane as a passing lane, or was attempting to, and they struck Alexis from behind," Jones said.

Jones rushed from work to the crash site hoping her daughter was okay, but the 17-year-old did not survive.

“It’s just surreal, you know, I was like, 'This can’t be. That’s wrong,'" Jones said.

A tragic death reminiscent of the dangers pedestrians face near Tampa roads.

In the City of Tampa's "Vision Zero Action Plan" published in March, data shows walkers are Tampa's most vulnerable travelers accounting for 39 percent of deadly crashes on city streets.

“Brighter lights, more crosswalks. How can we make pedestrians safer," FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson said. "We look at everything.”

Carson is working with local and county agencies to help make pedestrians more visible. The state is installing updated LED lights at High Injury Network corridors around Hillsborough Co. and implementing new "Leading Pedestrian Intervals" at crosswalks to give walkers and cyclists more of a head start. FDOT reports the agency installed 566 LPIs in 2021.

“We can give pedestrians three to seven seconds before any vehicles are given a green indication for them to safely cross the roadway," Carson said.

“There’s so much work that still needs to be done," Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden.

Alden and her partners are targeting "Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons," along the county's deadliest corridors.

“Then you provide predictable behavior for drivers to expect the pedestrians are going to be there. The more predictability you can create, the better," she said.

The flashing crosswalks were set up along Bayshore Boulevard after a 24-year-old mother and her toddler were killed crossing the waterfront road in 2018.

Brandie Miklus, coordinator for the City of Tampa's Infrastructure Mobility Program, said the lighted beacons not only make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street, but they change driving speeding habits, as well.

“It’s just going to slow a driver down a little bit when they’re going through a high pedestrian area," Miklus said.

In 2021, speeding or reckless driving accounted for 71% of road deaths, it was the largest factor in determining whether a person walks away from a crash. Nearly 40% of deadly crashes in Tampa occur in the area's Top 50 deadliest corridors, according to data collected by HTPO, and 75% of those fatalities happen in 23% of streets around Tampa.

“So, it’s very attainable to be able to address those areas, those roads, and put in some of those traffic-calming measures and just designing our roadways with all users in mind," Miklus said.

Along one of those corridors, on Busch Blvd, the speed limit was dropped from 45 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour, but Jones says it is not enough to save pedestrians from the same fate as her daughter.

“They just don’t provide enough safety in that area for the students," she said.

Jones wonders why flashing crosswalks around Bayshore cannot be replicated on Busch to create a safe zone next to the school zone.

“They just need to stop with the excuses and just get it done," Jones said.

City and county officials have said lack of proper funding has stalled planned safety improvement projects. The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing, Wednesday night, to discuss the impact of a one-cent transportation sales surtax to be voted on in November.

Hillsborough Transportation and Planning Organization's data collection and safety recommendations are also available to view, here.

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