Bloomberg Associates, transportation expert Janette Sadik-Khan help Tampa craft mobility vision

In early June, transportation and urban planning expert Janette Sadik-Khan draws a large crowd to the Tampa Theatre for a presentation on reshaping urban mobility systems.

Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner for New York City from 2007-13, has inspired planners across the country to re-think pedestrian and roadway spaces. Her practices and perspectives have inspired Tampa planners for a while.

Now, her influence has moved from planning inspiration to actual consultation with the City of Tampa. Sadik-Khan is the founding principal of Bloomberg Associates, a philanthropic consulting group that former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg established to advise mayors worldwide on strategies and policies to improve the quality of life for their residents. 

Her team has selected Tampa to receive no-cost consultation over the next three years to develop and implement data-driven and collaborative mobility plans. Fresh off being commissioned by Tel Aviv for similar services, the Bloomberg team visits Tampa to meet with key stakeholders, developers and partnering agencies to understand better the particulars of the booming city’s development-related needs.

“People first”

Sadik-Khan’s June presentation at the Tampa Theatre deftly employs wit and humor to energize a transportation-savvy, mostly Gen-X and millennial crowd. She references her latest book, "Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution,” highlights her work accomplishments and discusses challenges and universal themes in modern mobility. 

During her presentation, one slide is a still photo of the police line-up from the classic heist movie “The Usual Suspects.” All the characters are labeled according to typical mobility obstacles, with the lead villain Keyser Söze labeled "parking minimums.” This gains a hardy laugh from a crowd saturated with planners and mobility enthusiasts eager to shake things up. Sadik-Khan's message is the consistent drumbeat of people-centric street design standards. "People first" is her mantra.

The presentation shares examples of that philosophy in action: visuals of efforts to pedestrianize Broadway in Times Square, maps illustrating the addition of nearly 400 miles of bike lanes and pictures of plazas created in once sterile, vehicle-laden environments.

Now, Sadik-Khan is focusing that expertise and experience on Tampa.

The collaboration between Tampa and Bloomberg Associates has received an enthusiastic reception from regional urban planners and mobility experts who pride themselves on staying current with best practices. That includes the minds behind Tampa's Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries while creating a mobility system that is equitable for all modes of transportation.

Mayor Jane Castor committed to joining the global Vision Zero roadway safety movement immediately after taking office in 2019. The Vision Zero Action Plan is a component of the citywide mobility plan, Tampa MOVES. These companion efforts provide Tampa a short-term strategic approach that jump-starts the process of reaching the city's long-term transportation vision.

According to the Vision Zero Action plan, an average of 44 people die each year and another 289 suffer life-altering injuries on Tampa roads. Sadik-Khan asserts the solution is to place people first in transportation and public spaces, especially roadways. She says great strides can be made quickly, and without a lot of expense or red tape, by using paint and simple materials to transform spaces and delineate areas for enhanced functionality and safety. This approach does not require significant investment and spaces can literally transform overnight. 

"We have implemented several low-cost projects that aid in roadway safety,” says Alana Brasier, chief transportation planner with Tampa’s Mobility Department. “It is validating to know that our plans and initiatives are in-line with international best practices. Having access to the expertise and mentorship of the Bloomberg team will help us keep pace with the growing needs of the city and improve quality of life."

The three Ps

The 2020 Vision Zero collaboration between the Tampa Downtown Partnership and the city for North Ashley Drive and the Interstate 275 off-ramp is an example of these principles in action. The improvements along this downtown corridor employed local artists to paint brightly colored street murals to calm traffic coming off I-275, increase pedestrian visibility and add a touch of beauty to the urban streets. Additionally, the project added decorative planters at intersections and flexible delineator posts to enhance pedestrian safety. 

"I give credit to Janette Sadik-Khan and her three Ps philosophy- paint, planters and posts," says Karen Kress, the director of transportation at the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

While in New York for an International Downtown Association conference several years ago, Kress participated in a tour that visited Sadik-Khan’s work as then transportation commissioner. The tour planted a seed that came to fruition years later and continues to gather momentum. 

This summer, Kress will implement a pilot-program downtown to make use of "dead space" at the end of curbsides by repurposing that space as micro-mobility parking instead of cluttering sidewalks or claiming parking spaces. The project will simply demarcate the space with paint and posts and put it to good use.

In her presentation at Tampa Theatre, Sadik-Khan praises city transportation capital improvement projects such as the Davis Boulevard Complete Streets project on Davis Island and the East-West Green Spine cycle track, which Mayor Castor has used on Bike to Work Day to travel from Seminole Heights to downtown.

That night, Sadik-Khan also urges the audience to support the “All For Transportation” sales tax referendum on the ballot this November. Tampa and Hillsborough County plan to use revenues from that sales tax increase to develop multi-modal transportation systems that fund not just roads, but improve public transit and expand the community's network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

During the Bloomberg Associates weeklong visit, Tampa Director of Mobility Vik Bhide gathers a handful of mobility advocates and non-profits for a roundtable discussion with the Bloomberg team that begins a dialogue with an important perspective. Christine Acosta of Pedal Power Promoters takes part and organizes a bike tour of Tampa. Acosta arranges for 12 electric bikes from the company Lime and Brasier and other members of the mobility department lead a tour that starts in the city’s urban core.

The Bloomberg team experiences a snapshot of non-car transportation in Tampa, from the bicycle-friendly Green Spine cycle track to high-traffic intersections along Florida Avenue.

The appeal of the "three Ps” approach is that simple esthetic changes are faster and cheaper than having to demolish or construct. Hence, Sadik-Khan encourages a just-go-for-it attitude to see what sticks.  

"Soon there will be pilot projects coming online across the city for us to experience,” Acosta says. “We must be patient with acclimating to the changes. It takes about one year for a community to embrace even simple changes that at the end of the day are producing fundamental improvements in our quality of life. But cities all over the world are discovering that people-first, people-centric planning works."

For more information go to Bloomberg Associates, Janette Sadik-Khan,
City of Tampa Mobility Department and Tampa Downtown Partnership.
For more information on Vision Zero go to Vision Zero Action Plan.
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Read more articles by Michele Smith.

Michele Smith is a writer based in Tampa since the ’90s. She has a degree in International Business & Fine Art from the University of Tampa and has contributed to numerous start-up ventures in the Tampa Bay area. Her writing is influenced by a local and global perspective. Topics of interest include arts leadership, business development, creativity and innovation and wellness. Michele is also the Executive Director of the nonprofit Tampa Arts Alliance.