How to attract industry, investments? Make Tampa a better place for mobility

How can you collapse a building with relative ease? Allowing the foundation to rot away will certainly do the trick. An advanced economy, just like a building, that doesn’t sit atop a strong foundational economy will be doomed to that same eventual failure.

In Tampa that foundational rot seems to have started 72 years ago with the removal of our trolley system. At its peak in 1926 it carried almost 24 million people annually. Like termites our lack of safe mobility alternatives to the automobile is not only ensuring eventual failure but quite literally killing us. Our local government officials have scratched at the surface of these problems, attempting to reverse our symptoms by adopting Vision Zero, a goal to reduce road traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero, and laying down a whole lot of paint for bicycle lanes. We’ve actually painted about 6 percent of our cities' streets with bicycle lanes since 2010. 

Sam GibbonsUnfortunately most of this paint was hastily placed for beautification purposes, with usability as an afterthought, in preparation for our hosting the Republican National Convention in 2012. 

Ideally these on-street bicycle lanes would be physically separated by more than just paint. At a minimum, raising the grade of these bicycle lanes, if only by a couple of inches, would indicate to drivers that our roads do not belong solely to automobiles.

Role models for the future

Three recent local projects that reflect thoughtfulness in Tampa are the resurfacing of Cass Street, Tyler Street, and Jackson Street. The former projects received recognition last year for showing best practices for protected bike lanes while Jackson Street is the Florida Department of Transportation’s first road to incorporate protected bike lanes in Florida.
 
The ability to actively travel our city safely, ensures a more friendly and livable city by providing opportunities for physical activity to improve fitness and mental health while simultaneously improving social cohesion and reducing air pollution from green house gas emissions. As a city and region, our economic strength and resiliency would improve too! Look to our neighboring Pinellas Trail and their success if you have any doubts. Physical activity is also a leading contributor in preventing and treating many of the chronic conditions we face as a nation.

Projects like the Pinellas Trail work as economic engines and offer equitable alternatives to enhance the standard of living for residents by improving connectivity for all races, ages, and abilities by providing facility users with safe, alternative mobility routes.
 
Editor's note: In thinking about "What's Next For Florida,'' 83 Degrees Media invites young professionals to submit opinion columns of 600-800 words describing what they would like to see next in Florida's future. Email tips@83degreesmedia.com.
Looking back to Tampa, when traversing the retail and restaurants of Hyde Park you feel safe. It is a walkable place where people are welcome as indicated by a lower speed limit, wide sidewalks, and clearly marked conveniently placed pedestrian crossing walks. 

When negotiating similar districts, such as on Florida Avenue, where roads act more like highways, that feeling of safety and welcome are considerably lessened although the people and food are just as wonderful. And you are absolutely risking your life when attempting to bicycle between the two.

Weaving a trail into our city’s urban core and beyond would link people to jobs, schools, parks, shopping, entertainment areas, and other points of interest including the Tampa Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard. Our pilot multimodal path could pick up where the Riverwalk ends traveling through Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights, Sulphur Springs, and the University of South Florida before returning southward making its way to Ybor City, Water Street, downtown Tampa, and our soon to be opened Julian B. Lane Park.

Creating more connections
 
We could also connect to the Coast to Coast Connector trail, which is one of several paved multimodal paths within the Shared Use NonMotorized Trails (SUN Trails) program, funded by our state government. This particular trail will connect the Pinellas Trail to Titusville, Florida. A span of 250 miles that is already 60 percent completed ultimately connecting to other regional trails throughout Florida.

Our trail would cost relatively little compared to the other mobility options and would help to shore up our foundational economy allowing the option for residents, and tourists alike, to see much more of our city’s historic districts and neighborhoods safely. You will be amazed at how much you miss being stuck inside motor vehicle traffic.

That same motor vehicle traffic, according to Center for Disease Control, ranks as the 2nd largest contributor to unintentional death for Americans. Averaged over the last 3 years, 96 people per day in the United States were killed in automobile accidents. The equivalent of two fully loaded 777’s crashing weekly. Adding mobility options will help to reduce that number while unilaterally improving our quality of life.
 
The proposal of Tampa taking a lead role in active mobility options, in walkability, will improve our competitiveness with the global economy as well. Enticing companies by showing our active mobility options and one day mass transportation options are much stronger attractors than simply dumping the money bucket out and sweetening deals with tax incentives. 

Putting that money to use benefiting our local economies should be our standard operating policy -- not chasing companies with hopes and prayers that permanent high-paying jobs will appear.

More walkable cities alongside stronger regional cohesion will improve everyone’s quality of life. These very achievable goals can be met but champions need to emerge. The alternative, continuing this multigenerational crumbling of our foundation that is robbing us of what should be not only a prosperous future for Tampa, but our region as well.

Sam Gibbons, a regional planner and advocate for social and environmental justice, is a leader in sustainable food production systems. He is enrolled in graduate school at the University of South Florida’s College of Global Sustainability with a concentration in Sustainable Transportation and Sustainability Energy. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Public Policy from Florida State University. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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