Want to make local streets safer for all? Report road safety concerns on new Interactive map

Downtown Tampa's funky Channel District is designed to be one of the region's most walkable neighborhoods, but in practice, residents say that crossing the streets is not always a simple feat -- due primarily to inadequate crosswalks and speeding motorists. Thanks to a new, citizen-driven app created by the Hillsborough MPO, Tampa Bay area pedestrians and bicyclists can help the county identify problem areas and pedestrian woes that may otherwise slip between the sidewalk cracks. 

The Channel District represents just one region on the new Hillsborough MPO 'Vision Zero' Interactive Map, and is thus far among its most squeaky wheels -- along with Hyde Park and Tampa Heights. As Hillsborough residents become aware of the map and its ease of use, the MPO expects to see the data grow, and aims to use that data to create pedestrian and bicyclist friendly solutions across the county.

Mapping goals for Vision Zero

When the Hillsborough MPO introduced Vision Zero -- a data-driven effort to eliminate pedestrian and bicyclist traffic fatalities -- in November, it rolled out a series of Action Tracks designed to implement proactive change in every aspect of how motorists and pedestrians interact with Tampa area roads.

Vision Zero committees representing the Action Tracks such as "Paint Saves Lives" (seeking low cost, high impact solutions such as brightly painted pedestrian areas) and "Consistent and Fair" (a law enforcement-based approach to promote safe traffic behaviors) will have their eyes on the MPO's new map as they begin to strategize action plans for 2017 in their next meeting on January 31. 

"Anything we do should be based on good data. This map can help us justify that our efforts -- be they time, money, or energy -- are going where they are really needed," says Gena Torres, Executive Planner for the Hillsborough MPO. 

"If we hear enough people saying that something is happening in an area, then we can focus efforts on working and helping the community there," Torres says. 

Pop-up safety strategies, such as applying bright paint to bicycle and pedestrian-safe lanes, or installing planters that provide a traffic-calming buffer, have proven effective in other Vision Zero communities such as Ft. Lauderdale and New York City -- areas after which Hillsborough models much of its Vision Zero efforts.

Torres says that thanks to the "problem area" insights gleaned from Hillsborough's interactive map, similar "Paint Saves Lives" projects are currently pending in Tampa -- and could go underway as early as this spring.

What is the Vision Zero interactive map?

Torres notes that the MPO already has in place a robust database that maps the location of every traffic accident that is reported to law enforcement. 

"Every kind of accident is reported in the database: car to car, pedestrians, people walking, people cycling," Torres notes, "but there are a whole lot of other places in the community where people are having a hard time crossing the road -- or where the sidewalk disappears, or where they see patterns of people speeding -- that we don't necessarily know about because they're not showing up in that crash report."

The new interactive map is meant to collect data that picks up on those smaller details the MPO might otherwise overlook: incomplete sidewalks, bus stops that are difficult to access, and spots with heavy motorist speeding patterns, in spite of pedestrian density, are some of the prime concerns.

"We know that in those high traffic corridors in our crash database, it isn't feasible to stop traffic for an entire day, or two, to paint the road -- but we can do just that, and really create an impact, in some of the spots that are being identified on the Vision Zero map," Torres says. 

The Vision Zero interactive map runs on the Wikimapping engine, a public engagement tool used by planners, governments and nonprofits across the U.S. to "crowdsource" input on a map to identify safety concerns in a region. Hillsborough MPO added the Wikimapping platform to the Vision Zero project page in early November. 

In the months since the map went online, Hillsborough MPO Webmaster, Chris English, says Vision Zero has become one of the most heavily-trafficked pages on the MPO website, and that the map has received more than 140 comments from Bay area citizens -- providing a wealth of feedback in areas including the Channel District, Hyde Park, Temple Terrace, and Brandon. 

Get Connected: How to add your voice to Vision Zero

Have a concern about your neighborhood streets, or any of your favorite strolling and cycling spots? Here's how to get connected: 

Visit the Vision Zero project page and scroll down to find the interactive map. On the map, click "Points" and choose from a selection of icons representing safety concerns including: unsafe crossing areas, missing sidewalks, unsafe or absent bicycle facilities, areas where motorists are driving too fast, other general "problem spots" and opportunities for improvement.

Once you've chosen your safety concern, click to pin it on the map at the problem area, and type an anonymous comment up to 1000 characters that describes the issue. Map users can also click on pre-existing pins to view safety concerns that have already been addressed and add their own comments. No need to create a login on the site or provide personal information -- just click, comment, and claim your place on the Vision Zero map. 

Advocating for safety really is that simple -- so click away, Tampa Bay.

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Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.