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Tampa officials want see to city embrace Vision Zero to eliminate pedestrian deaths

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s a sad cliche to discuss how dangerous it is for pedestrians and/or cyclists in the Tampa/Hillsborough County region, but it’s also a fact of life around here, or sometimes, tragically, a way of death.

Less than a month ago, 17-year-old Lexi Miranda was struck and killed while crossing the street to Chamberlain High School, off Busch Boulevard in Tampa by a motorist.

A group of citizen-activists are tired of such tragedies, and are working together to try to change the local mindset when it comes to roads held a press conference in front of City Hall in Tampa Thursday.

This summer two moms, Jackie Toledo and Hannah Strom, created Walk Bike Tampa. The organization says they are committed to making Tampa safer for all people using its roads. Their first official action was acknowledging that Tampa’s roads are dangerous by de- sign and adopted “Vision Zero as the group’s transportation goal for our city (Toledo ran unsuccessfully for Tampa City Council earlier this year).

Vision Zero is an approach to transportation policy that states that “No loss of life is acceptable” on city streets. It calls for communitywide commitment to protecting everyone who uses the roads, especially vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists. It calls on city leaders and traffic engineers to share responsibility with drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists in ensuring that roads are safe. Finally, it emphasizes smarter street designs. Officials say that rather than blaming pedestrians and cyclists for errors, a Vision Zero system tries to predict them and protect against them.

Present at today’s news conference was City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione and Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Steuart.

Montelione has already made procedural motions for the City of Tampa to take up a Vision Zero resolution during the Dec. 3 meeting of Tampa City Council. Stuart plans to bring it up at the next School Board meeting on Nov. 10. If approved, Tampa would be the first city in the Southeast and the only city in Florida to include safety as the #1 goal in transportation planning.

Although County Commissioner Sandy Murman was not present, officials say that she supports the Vision Zero plan and also intends to introduce a similar resolution at a future BOCC meeting.

Also at the press conference was Valarie Jones, the mother of the late Alexis Miranda, mentioned above.

“The day after my daughter’s accident, there were kids darting across the street, just the next day,” Jones told this reporter Thursday.

“Cars still streaming through and I just feel like, with Vision Zero and putting safety first and designing roads, I feel there’s no more need to point fingers and say who’s at fault, the pedestrians, or the bicyclists or the drivers, if it can prevent another mother from having to go through (what I have).”

Jones said in the immediate aftermath of the loss of her daughter she was trying to find something to take away her pain and translate it into something more positive, and says she found that when she discovered Walk Back Tampa.

Officials with the local group says that some form of “Vision Zero” has been adopted by 12 major U.S. Cities, including Los Angeles, Austin, San Jose and Chicago, among others. It has also been adopted by numerous European cities, and reports indicate that deaths drop dramatically through a Vision Zero approach.

Referring to the fact that some of Tampa’s most notorious roads are run the Florida Department of Transportation, Strom says that her group intends to fight back against the rules that are only designed to allow automobiles to move as fast as possible, but not to protect the vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

“I am a happy, SUV-driving mom,” Strom relates. “I like to ride my bike with my kids on the weekend. I am not anti-car, I’m not who you would normally picture as a walk-bike activist, but I really am part of a big swell of people who say that walkability and bike- ability in the city is just fundamental to what we want in 2016. This is what people in the United States want in their cities.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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