Palm Avenue's on a 'Road Diet': Could It Make Downtown Tampa Safer?

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Have you ever heard of a “road diet”? It’s basically what it sounds like: Cutting down on roads. It’s happening here in Tampa as part of the Palm Avenue redesign this month, as part of the city’s goal to make the road friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists. Although some see it as a welcome change, there are others who question the need to reduce motor-vehicle flow.

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Tampa Transportation and Stormwater Services workers on the Palm Avenue road diet project are installing on-street parking, mid-block crosswalks, bike lanes, and other traffic calming measures, according to Tampa Bay Times. While road diets are shown to work in certain urban areas, many Tampa residents are voicing concerns about the potential downsides of the redesign and whether a road diet is appropriate in what they say is an already gridlocked city.

Typically, “road diet” projects eliminate a lane from each direction of traffic, repurposing that lane for pedestrian and cyclist use. These redesign projects slow down traffic and reduce pedestrian crash risk, according to a study by the Federal Highway Administration. However, this type of road makeover is not always feasible depending on traffic volume, and can create frustrating bottlenecks for motorists.

Here are a few of the pros and cons from the debate over the Palm Avenue redesign project, according to residents and professionals working on the project.

Pro: May Help Prevent Fatal Accidents

No matter how a “road diet” is designed and what traffic calming measures it implements, the ultimate goal is to slow traffic to under 30 mph. This lowered speed limit not only gives pedestrians and cyclists a chance to share the road with motorists, but it drastically reduces the likelihood of fatalities when car accidents do occur.

Only 5 percent of pedestrian crashesare fatal when the motorist is traveling at a speed of 20 miles per hour compared to a fatality rate of 80 percent when the motorist is traveling at 40 miles per hour, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Essentially, a lower speed limit makes a difference.

Con: Will Potentially Make Traffic Worse

Many residents are displeased with the Palm Avenue redesign project and are concerned that as the downtown river area develops, traffic will become unbearable. Those who work in the area already see an increase in commute time due to the road changes, and point to the lack of left-turn lanes as a major culprit in the traffic jams along Palm Avenue. As there is only one lane of traffic, through-traffic is held up by motorists trying to turn left.

“They block up the street. It’s just a mess,” explained a resident to Tampa Bay Times.

Pro: Contributes to the Creation of a Bicycle-Pedestrian Loop Trail

Hillsborough County has a bad reputation for pedestrian fatalities, according to data from the Florida Department of Transportation, and the City of Tampa wants to change that by making its roads safe and accessible for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike. Tampais working towards that goal through its InVision and Walk-Bike Plans, and the redesign of Palm Avenue is a major component of this work.

Specifically, the Palm Avenue road diet comes to play in Phase V of the Walk-Bike Plan. This phase of the project looks to install a bicycle-pedestrian loop trail linking downtown Tampa to Palmetto beach, Ybor City, Rowlett Park, and other neighborhoods. This loop will be known as Perimeter Trail, and Palm Avenue will be a part of this trail once the road diet is complete, connecting to Ola Avenue Spur.

Con: Could Be Reversed, Thereby ‘Wasting’ $700,000

Some residents think that the Palm Avenue redesign project will create such a traffic problem that it might even be reversed and changed back into a four-lane road, wasting the over $700,000 grant that paid for the project.

There is precedent for road-diet reversal in Florida. In 2015, Gainesville reversed its redesign of 8th Avenue, ultimately re-striping the road for a four-car lane and the removing the median and bike lanes.

While bike-lane usage jumped and instances of serious car crashes went down in the duration of the redesign, the road diet was met with major opposition due to bottlenecking traffic, resulting in the reversal.

If enough opposition mounts against the Palm Avenue road diet due to increased traffic, a similar situation could come to Tampa, residents speculated in the Tampa Bay Times report.

But if There Are Car Accidents…

Regardless of people’s opinion on the merits of the Palm Avenue project — whether the project will make the road safer for everyone or pose an undue burden that could lead to gridlock — people can agree that car accidents are a huge, sometimes painful inconvenience. What can add insult to injury is when you have to fight an insurance company for money you’re owed after an accident. We might be able to help with that.

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