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.

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