Green ARTery: Connecting Tampa's Greenspaces

Even with flashing lights and a helmet securely fitted and fastened, it can be dangerous to walk or ride a bicycle on Florida's streets and roads.

That's why cities and counties in Tampa Bay and across the state have added hundreds of miles of bike lanes and sidewalks, reconfigured neighborhood streets to slow traffic and worked in recent years to increase awareness about the importance of sharing the road.

The result: The number of pedestrian fatalities has ticked down in recent years (one pedestrian fatality was reported from January through April this year), though Florida continues to rank high on the list of states with the most fatalities for walkers and bikers.

That safety issue is what motivates a neighborhood-based effort in Hillsborough County to change the future for pedestrians by identifying, enhancing and creating trails and paths to safely connect local greenspaces.

Say hello to the Green ARTery effort.

With an ultimate goal of connecting the Tampa Bay region's valued parks and public greenspaces, the multiorganizational project aims to start by creating a designated network of trails to allow for safe travels along the waterways and neighborhood parks that traverse Tampa's central urban core.

"We desperately need to cut down on the pedestrian and bicycle fatalities that we have here in Florida -- especially Tampa,'' says Rhonda Triplett-Coleman, Green ARTery media and communications director who, along with Ann McDonald and Leroy McCray, organizes public meetings and workshops for the project. "In order to do this, we need to connect area neighborhoods, giving residents and visitors the opportunity to travel safely to and from all of Tampa's public assets.''

According to a recent survey by nonprofit safety advocacy organization Transportation for America, the top four least pedestrian-friendly metropolitan areas in the U.S. are in Florida. The Orlando-Kissimmee region led with more than 550 pedestrians killed from 2000 to 2009, while the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area ranked a close second, followed by Jacksonville and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area.

Going Green With ARTery

Although local efforts by the Tampa Police Department, Metropolitan Planning Organization and Florida Department of Transportation have begun to significantly decrease the number of pedestrian fatalities in Tampa, Myron Griffin and Lena Young-Green -- the folks behind the local grassroots Green ARTery effort -- are continuing a project that aims to connect 20 neighborhoods in Hillsborough County. The ARTery project started in 2010 in the neighborhoods of Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

"Myron and Lena were both looking for a way to safely connect things in their neighborhood and it was suggested that they meet and join together,'' Triplett-Coleman says. "They started identifying local green spaces and how neighborhoods could become connected. Other groups in Central Tampa heard about the effort and showed interested in being a part of what we are now calling the Green ARTery.''

Griffin and Young-Green are looking to construct a loop connecting Old Seminole Heights, Southeast Seminole Heights, South Seminole Heights, V.M. Ybor, East Tampa, Historic Ybor, Ybor Heights, Palmetto Beach, Tampa Riverwalk, Tampa Heights, Ridgewood Park, Riverside Heights, the Channel District and downtown Tampa neighborhoods.

"There are so many jewels within the city and this [project] is connecting the dots,'' says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "I think it's great.''

Over the past couple of months, the ARTery project has grown in size and support and is currently in the planning and funding stage. As a grassroots effort, Triplett-Coleman says grants, donations or funding from organizations are being sought to cover the approximately $5 million to $10 million price tag. Local planning and engineering company Tindale-Oliver & Associates has designed a paved perimeter trail and is encouraging feedback.

"Some of the pieces of the Green ARTery perimeter trails are already in place and can be utilized to complete the project,'' Triplett-Coleman says. "We want to connect the missing pieces to make it one safe, continuous trail.''

Residents Know Best

Several workshops and meetings have already taken place since the start of 2012, inviting local residents to participate and help the project move forward. With a goal of being in place by 2020, a major focus has been placed on resident wants and needs -- after all, they will be the ones taking advantage of the ARTery.

"Resident input is very important in this project. Normally, things work from the top down, but with the Green ARTery, it's starting with us and going up. We need to figure out what it is that the area wants and needs instead of organizations telling us what they think we should have,'' Triplett-Coleman says. "We want and welcome community support and need to do what we can to make residents happy.''

Among some of the trail amenities suggested by residents are free WiFi, restrooms, playgrounds, water fountains and bicycle racks.

"I think it's great that the project is looking for input and feedback,'' says Tampa Heights resident and bicyclist J.R. Pruitt, who says he'd frequent the trail once its in place. "That's the best way to make sure those who regularly use the trail are happy with the pathway.''

An upcoming community engagement workshop will be held on Wednesday, May 29th, at 6:30 p.m. at the Seminole Heights Garden Center in Tampa. This specific meeting will focus on the East Tampa, Historic Ybor, Old Seminole Heights, Ridgewood Park and Woodland Terrace neighborhoods.

For more information on the Green ARTery project, including how you can get involved, visit the official Facebook page or join the mailing list by email.

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found barhopping on South Howard Avenue, walking around her North Hyde Park neighborhood and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Davis Island Dog Beach. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.