Rubber Meets the Road – July 2016 : On the road to safe streets

Beth AldenTwenty years ago, planners floated the idea of a greenway trail connecting Tampa’s central neighborhoods with parks along the Hillsborough River. The proposal was shelved as a result of neighborhood opposition. The concern I remember hearing was a fear of outsiders cutting through residential areas, on two wheels.

Today, the story could not be more different. In partnership with the City of Tampa, the MPO is just wrapping up a feasibility and phasing study for the central Tampa greenway loop known sometimes as the “Green Artery.” Next steps include sidepath and crosswalk construction when roads are repaved, and grant applications for other segments. (Check out Coast Bikeshare’s Facebook post on our May 24 Open House event.)

This turn-around happened because of the tireless advocacy of a handful of residents, who encouraged their neighbors to think outside the box. The thousands of people who live in Tampa’s central neighborhoods deserve a safe place to walk and bike. Overcoming the fear of change took a concerted grassroots effort around a vision of something better. And today that vision is starting to be realized.

Zoom out to a county with fresh civic rifts over heavily debated decisions on highway widening, tolls, taxes, and transit. We can’t stop change from coming – our population is growing rapidly, and becoming more diverse and income-disparate; meanwhile the world’s economy, climate and technology systems are rapidly shifting around us. What we *can* change is how we respond. Where we go next as a community will depend on our ability to set aside our anxieties and find common ground.

I hope we can agree that we have a lot of things that need to be fixed – everything from broken sidewalks and ancient traffic signals to clogged highways, discontinuous trails, and buses that stop running at 8pm. Focusing on one piece of the puzzle doesn’t mean the other pieces will never happen. As a community, we have to look at a wide variety of strategies; there is no single solution to our many challenges. There are huge opportunities if we come together to achieve something better than the current trend. But make no mistake – we will get nowhere if we don’t find a way to work together. If the Green Artery project taught us anything, it’s that even great plans can take time to come to fruition… and that we can’t make plans without you.

Beth Alden
Hillsborough MPO Executive Director

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