On a Wednesday morning, a mother and her little girl, not quite 2, went for a stroll along one of Tampa’s prettiest streets.
It was nearly lunchtime when they were crossing back over Bayshore Boulevard, headed to the home nearby where they were staying. And coming toward them were three boys in fast cars.
Jessica Raubenolt was killed, her daughter Lillia, hit in her stroller, died the next day. A man lost his wife and child. Three young men went to jail. And no, senseless doesn’t begin to cover it.
The tragedy has focused attention on Bayshore Boulevard, a road like no other in this town. Bayshore is a 4.5-mile winding ribbon of wide concrete sidewalk along the water that follows the shape of the city’s edge. It’s also a busy four-lane thoroughfare that ferries thousands of cars between downtown and South Tampa every day.
One side is lined with mansions and residential high-rises, the other a lovely balustrade overlooking bay waters. A wide, well-tended median of grass and trees and the occasional public art runs up its middle.
So it’s no surprise that Bayshore fills daily with people running, biking and walking their dogs. It has been called the world’s longest continuous sidewalk and a linear park, site of the annual Gasparilla pirate parade and countless foot races. It is idyllic.
It can also be dangerous.
Long, unbroken stretches of Bayshore — it has only two traffic lights between the lights at each end — tempt speeders. Already this year, police handed out more than 700 citations and warnings on Bayshore. A friend who once challenged a ticket she got there told me what the judge said to her in court:
C’mon. Everyone speeds on Bayshore.
There has been change. After a jogger was killed by a speeding motorcyclist in 2004, the city began work to make things better with bike lanes, signage and other improvements. As early as today, the speed limit drops from 40 to 35 mph — earlier than scheduled. Three badly needed flashing crosswalks are planned, and maybe more to come.
Which can’t happen soon enough.
Given the distance between its traffic lights, it’s unrealistic to expect people to walk that far to cross the street. It’s perfectly legal to cross Bayshore where neighborhood streets intersect with it on its residential side — unmarked crosswalks, these are called.
It’s also sometimes pretty hairy, given the traffic flying by. In some spots, the curves that make this road so pretty also make it hard to see what’s coming at you. And how fast.
But any changes to Bayshore can’t possibly be an ounce of comfort to people whose lives were shattered Wednesday.
If the allegations that two cars were speeding and racing when they hit a 24-year-old mother and her child are true, the fault lies with young men who made the worst possible choices that day, with decisions that ended a life and hurt a whole lot more.
And that will mark the rest of theirs.
By sunrise Thursday, someone had planted a small white cross where it happened. People laid bouquets of flowers around it. And someone tied on a big pink balloon that whipped in the wind as cars and people passed by on Bayshore.