TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn will officially reopen part of North 22nd Street in East Tampa to traffic Wednesday morning after the segment underwent a $5.6 million make-over.
The three-year project was designed to make 22nd Street safer for pedestrian and drivers alike, along with improving underground utilities between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and East 21st Avenue.
The work was paid for by the Florida Department of Transportation and the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area.
The main feature of the improvements is a traffic circle at the junction of North 22nd Street, East 22nd Avenue, East 23rd Avenue and North 21st Street. It sits astride the point where North 22nd Avenue once split to form two one-way streets — northbound 22nd and southbound 21st.
Buckhorn will cut the ribbon on the new intersection at 10 a.m.
Traffic circles are rare in Tampa, where the century-old street grid makes it hard to assemble the amount of land necessary to build one. The city has built a few along North 40th Street between Fowler and Hillsborough avenues. The developers of K Bar Ranch in the city’s far northeast corner are also using them, said Jean Duncan, Tampa’s transportation director.
They’re increasingly common on suburban streets as a way to avoid four-way stops and smooth the flow of traffic, said Pei-sung Lin, program director for traffic operations and safety at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.
“All cars can move at the same time,” Lin said.
The circle also forces drivers to slow down as they navigate the intersection, reducing both the risk and severity of collisions with other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians, he said.
While traffic circles have their practical advantages, they can be confusing to drivers not used to using them. But after a few trips through, most people get the hang of them, Lin said.
“If you design it well with landscaping, it’s an appealing environment for people,” he said. “It’s not a solution for everything, but it’s pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.”
With Tampa routinely ranking first or second in the nation for pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, friendlier streets have become a priority for city leaders.
The redesign of North 22nd Street is part of Tampa’s effort to put into play the road-design philosophy know as “Complete Streets” with the goal of making the city streets welcoming to everyone — not just for people in cars.
“It’s a huge improvement,” said Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, the city council’s most vocal “Clean Streets” advocate.
“I would think that once people begin using that segment of the roadway and find out how much better it is than being stuck at a traffic light, they’ll begin to see the benefits of it,” Montelione said.
By keeping traffic moving, circles also reduce the pollution cars produce while idling at stop lights, Montelione said.
In a written statement announcing the opening of the remade intersection, Buckhorn said it will help improve the economy of East Tampa.
“It’s all about economic opportunity, creating complete streets that serve everyone, and transforming a community,” he said.