New bus route, sidewalks, sculpture add to quality of life in University Area neighborhoods

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit system, or HART, has returned a bus route to the lower-income neighborhoods west of USF that had been eliminated two years ago.
Bus Route 44 travels up 22nd Avenue past the University Area Community Center and park. It travels through neighborhoods where people use public transit to get to work and for shopping out of necessity; many people also walk in the area, says Erica Nelson, Director of Operations for the University Area CDC, which advocated for the return of Route 44.

“The community really tapped into our engagement and told us they needed the bus for groceries and to access other resources,” she says. Otherwise, residents had to walk two miles to the nearest bus stop.

HART made numerous route changes that went into effect in 2021 based on community input. The agency made the changes with three goals in mind: to align demand, safety, and efficiency; and to maximize resources.

The changes resulted in removing 21 vehicle trips and reducing the cost of service by $2.5 million. Some of the changes resulted from reduced demand during the COVID-19 pandemic when many commuters began working from home.

The University Area CDC also received a state grant to connect previously placed sidewalks where lengthy gaps make walking, bicycling, roller skating, skateboarding, or using a wheelchair treacherous. It is conducting a study now to show the need for a sidewalk leading from Mort Elementary School on Bearss Avenue to Harvest Hope Park, which occupies seven acres on North 20th Street about 1.5 miles from the school. The CDC will seek funding from Hillsborough County for that sidewalk.

Harvest Hope Park is becoming a key community destination as families gather for ball games, picnics, and conversation. It is also home to several new public art pieces by Artist Junior Polo who has built sculptures spelling out PEACE, LOVE, and HOPE.

“Right now, you can’t get to the park [from the elementary school] without walking in the road,” Nelson says. “We need a connectivity path so the kids can access the park safely for after-school programming.”

At the CDC’s request, the county also recently added rapid-flash beacons on 15th Street, which has been plagued by speeding  and accidents involving motorized vehicles colliding with pedestrians and bicycles.

For more information, following these links to the new HART bus route, HART, and the University Area CDC.

Related story: Placemaking: Public art creates a sense of place in North Tampa neighborhood.

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Read more articles by Yvette C. Hammett.

Yvette C. Hammett, a native Floridian and a graduate of the University of Florida, has spent much of her career as a professional journalist covering business, the environment, and local features throughout the Tampa Bay Area. She is an avid camper and outdoors person who has also been involved in local events for foster children and the elderly.