Tampa, Florida: A Case Study in Saddling the Poor With Traffic Violence

You can see, on the right hand side of this image, a memorial to one of two teenage girls killed while trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. Image: Google Maps
You can see, on the right hand side of this image, a memorial to one of two teenage girls killed while trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. Image: Google Maps

You’d be hard-pressed to fund a more deadly place for pedestrians in all of the U.S. than Tampa’s Hillsborough Avenue.

On an eight block stretch of this road, 21 bicyclists and pedestrians were hit by drivers between 2008 and 2012. Two of those people, 15-year-old Middleton High School students Shenika Davis and Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, were killed in separate incidents. Another teen, 18-year-old William Hogan, was gravely injured just a month after the second death.

And that’s not the only dangerous road in this low-income community on Tampa’s east side, according to City Council Member Frank Reddick, a lead advocate for safer conditions. Not far away, on 43rd Street, a woman pushing her baby in a stroller was struck and killed recently. The intersection of 34th and Chelsea Streets is another problem area. There have been seven collisions there over the last few years, including a triple fatality — the victims were motor vehicle occupants — during a short time span.

Tampa’s Fifth Ward — Reddick’s district and one of the city’s poorest — exemplifies the neighborhoods Governing Magazine singled out in a recent study that found that poorer communities are disproportionately affected by unsafe road conditions. The study found that pedestrians die at about double the rate in low-income neighborhoods compared to wealthy ones.

The Tampa area, Governing reports, has the second highest pedestrian death rate in the nation. In the metro area, 403 pedestrians were killed between 2008 and 2012. And poor neighborhoods, like Tampa’s Fifth Ward, are paying a high price. In Tampa’s Hillsborough County, people living in low-income neighborhoods are six times more likely to be killed while walking than those living in wealthier areas, according to the report.

In Tampa ... Image: Governing Magazine
Data for Tampa’s Hillsborough County 2008-2012, via Governing Magazine

Reddick was aware of the problem before he became an elected official. The local press dubbed him a “crusader” for safer conditions. But it’s a constant battle to get the help he needs to keep his constituents safe. The problem, he says, is a lack of resources devoted to the neighborhoods he represents.

Tampa Ward 5 Councilman Frank Reddick has been called a "Crusader" for safer neighborhood conditions. Image: City of Tampa
Tampa Ward 5 Councilman Frank Reddick. Photo: City of Tampa

“It’s just a true reflection of what the [Governing] article was talking about,” he said. “The problem is that not enough resources have been placed in these low economic communities. They don’t have a lot of sidewalks, they don’t have street crossings, they don’t have proper lighting. They have been neglected for so long.”

In a Google Maps image of the crash scene at 34th and Chelsea, you can see where pedestrians have worn a path in the grass where a sidewalk should be. In those images you can also make out a small memorial to those killed.

Fortunately, Reddick says the community has made a little progress lately. A four-way stop is going in at 34th and Chelsea, and the state is adding a signalized crosswalk near the spot where Davis and Velasquez-Cabrera were killed on Hillsborough. The state has also stepped up efforts to protect pedestrians and cyclists following several years of reports that found Florida to be the most deadly state for vulnerable road users.

Reddick says these interventions, unfortunately, have been too little, too late for some of his constituents.

“I’m sorry to say it took some deaths, people getting killed, for government to become a little more aggressive,” he said. “We need resources in this community. They need to find resources to help improve the conditions.”

  • Jeff Redding

    Pedestrian Safety has a very low priority in Florida. We need
    unobstructed sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and marked crosswalks. I have
    complained for years about the FDOT’s policy of placing street lamp
    posts in the middle of the sidewalk. – Member Bl;inded Veterans of
    America

  • Jake Wegmann

    Unconscionable.

    I still don’t understand how it can be that traffic engineers are so concerned about “liability, liability, liability” for any remotely nonstandard ROW design, and then actual, non-theoretical, real life death traps like the one in this picture (especially for a sight-impaired or wheelchair-bound person) are allowed to persist with no accountability whatsoever. No one can pretend that places like Tampa don’t have significant populations of people who don’t drive.

    Why are there no lawsuits for cases like this that go on and on for decades while officials don’t even make a halfhearted attempt to do something about them?

    At least Councilman Reddick, to his great credit, is trying his mightiest to take action on Hillsborough Road. But still, I would think the city would be in legal jeopardy for the deaths and severe injuries of those young people.

    Am I missing something? Is there some legal reason that cities can’t be sued for atrocities like these cases?

  • valar84

    Defensive engineering. Courts are not experts, when an engineer is sued for liability due to a design decision, courts will go to standards as basic expertise. The result is that it is safer for engineers to follow an erroneous standard than it is to try an alternative design that makes more sense.

    Liability cases are one of the rare cases where “but… everyone was doing it!” is actually a defense.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Wouldn’t a light pole placed smack-dab in the middle of a narrow sidewalk so as to render it unusable for whole categories of (vulnerable) people violate some sort of standard? ADA at the very least, right?

    Not trying to doubt what you’re saying in any way– you obviously know of what you speak. Just trying to understand how we got to this status quo that seems to fly in the face of basic common sense.

  • Jeff Redding

    The FDOT maintains Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, I don’t know about Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa.

    The FDOT and DOT FWHA have said lamp posts can be on the sidewalk as long as there is at least a 36″ clearance for wheelchair access.

    However, I believe they are using an ADA Law granting wheelchair access on narrow sidewalks as justivication to obstruct the middle of a normal width sidewalk,. They are circumventing DOT FWHA Above Ground Utility Structure Placement Standards and Sidewalk Width Standards which govern the obstruction of sidewalks.

    I think the County, FDOT, and State are wrong legally obstructing sidewalks. Residents and Businesses are not allowed to obstruct a sidewalk but the FDOT thinks they are above the law.

    As a Disabled Veteran it is an insult to my service to use the ADA to actually justify obstructing a sidewalk. The ADA is meant to grant access, not obstruct access.

    After doing a Google search about Florida Corruption and the FDOT I finally understood more why they act like the money would come from their own pockets to remove pedestrian right of way obstructions.

    It is difficult to find an Attorney willintg to sue the FDOT because the FDOT has about 75 full time lawyers on staff. I sure wish they would spend a little of their 8 Billion Dollar yearly budge to relocate pedestrian right of way obstructions, even if they were the ones who placed the obstructions.

    It is all about money. Poor people, the elderly, and disabled veterans don’t have a say. We are just tax burdens who are hated by our Tea Party Government Officials.

  • HamTech87

    Well said. And I don’t think bike safety is too high a priority either. Traveling to West Palm Beach, I’m astounded at how stupidly the bike lanes have been added to high speed roads. They’re in the middle of huge, 10 lane roads with zero protection. Okeechobee Blvd. on the approach to I-95 is a perfect example of this stupidity. Notice how they expect a cyclist to cross a two-lane offramp to stay in the bike lane. The posted speed limit is 45mph which is incredibly scary for a cyclist, but I’ve never seen anyone doing less than 55mph here because the road is at interstate highway level. https://www.google.com/maps/@26.705991,-80.072379,3a,75y,312.17h,64.51t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sDbeoUtniteaM4qacFauX9w!2e0

  • Nathanael

    If you could find a lawyer who focuses on ADA issues, they’d probably win the case. (If these streetlamp posts were put in after 1992, anyway.) It would be tedious, but it seems like it’s the only way to make progress. And this is pretty slam-dunk stuff.

  • Nathanael

    Blatant ADA violation. It’s only a violation if the area was rebuilt after the ADA was passed, though; if it’s just been neglected, then it’s grandfathered.

  • PhilipGlassRules

    Actually, FDOT does a rather good job overall on ped facilities, crosswalks, signalization, lighting, and bicycle lanes. I live in Maryland and there are virtually no bicycle lanes anywhere, and many major intersections in built-up areas have no ped crosswalks at all.

  • Roger215

    If the poles are replaced after 1992, does that mean that it becomes a violation?

  • Dan Hyatt

    Notice they NEVER interview the local professional traffic engineer… facts is nowhere near as exciting as asking an unqualified local politician…..
    Note one side has sidewalks and the other doesn’t. Bet the victims were either jaywalking or walking in the lane on the side without a sidewalk….

    Florida is unique in the United states as many cities have wide boulevards and cross streets are infrequent. So it is far more riskier to jaywalk across a 400 foot blvd with a 50 mph speed limit and cross streets every mile than a 200 ft blvd with a 40mph speed limit and cross streets every block

  • Dan Hyatt

    The bike enthusiasts I talk to strongly disagree with you.. They want the absolute right to ride in the right lane as the bike lanes are poorly maintained and have lots of obstacles like pedestrians, skateboarders, rollerbladers…and parking cars opening their doors.

  • Dan Hyatt

    I am sure it violates the engineering standards. Which is the problem when politicians who have never studied engineering play professional traffic engineer.

  • Dan Hyatt

    no, replacing the light standard is considered “repairs” not a new system….
    if they move the pole, then they have to comply with current standards.

  • Bernard Finucane

    The idiots how designed a street without crosswalks and sidewalks are probably the last people whose opinion I’d want to hear.

    The concept of jaywalking is nonsense. The street is broken and needs fixing. Stop blaming the victims.

  • Dan Hyatt

    Benard, Your first sentence makes no sense.
    My best friends dad was jaywalking on the freeway…was hit by 7 cars. You are the ONLY person who ever suggested it was the car’s fault because there was not a sidewalk.

    Your second sentence defies logic

    I was always taught personal responsibility. How is it NOT my fault when I am wearing black head to foot and walking in lanes of traffic?

    How is it Governments fault when there is no sidewalk where there has never been a sidewalk? You claiming that every freeway, highway, byway, and country road have sidewalks…and who is going to pay for this trillion dollar effort?

    On what basis do you make these rulings? the law of Progressiveness where Progressive views trump the Constitution?

    What about those neighborhoods where the citizens DEMAND the government NOT put in sidewalks, and because the residents are responsible for their own safety…there are no pedestrian/car accidents

  • Bernard Finucane

    Personal responsibility means you go to jail when you kill someone with your car.

  • Dan Hyatt

    Do you make this up as you go along????

    Your definition of personal responsibility is in absolute conflict with the legal basis called Actus Reas and mens rea

    Your statement goes so far as to say…if my car is stolen and crashed and kills the thief. I must go to jail.

    If I am driving down the road in weather and there is a 20 car pileup and someone is killed, 20 drivers go to prison.

    You are saying, If an activist for bicyclists is standing on the side of the road throwing rocks at cars, and hits a driver knocking them out killing the passenger and the bicyclist…. the driver of the car must go to prison under personal responsibility

  • Bernard Finucane

    If your best argument is a weak hypothetical, your entire position is weak.

  • socaldano

    The reason the cities are immune is because if they were not EVERYTIME there was an accident, the attorneys would sue the city too. Personal responsibility means you are attentive and acting safely, and watching for the hazards that might come to you.

    There is a national engineering standard, which the states have adopted as their state standard. Compliance with these standards are mandated by State and Federal law.

    So you get some moron like Reddick who never set foot in an engineering classroom, never read the engineering code, never read an article on traffic engineering, wouldn’t know engineering from basket weaving, is only good at shooting off his mouth on things he knows nothing about. ANd you hail him a hero…..

    I know some guys in the hood who will do you medical care for $20 a visit. They will even do surgery on anyone you want for $50 or $100. You seem uncaring that they are completely unqualified to practice medicine…because they have cut some people bad, they MUST be better than the surgeons

  • Jake Wegmann

    No. Your analogy makes no sense. Perfectly well-qualified traffic engineers inside but especially outside the US have come up with much safer street designs that have been demonstrated by piles of academic research to result in less death and injury. Dutch traffic engineering best practices are in no way like “some guys in the hood who will do medical care for $20.”

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