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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
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One day after fatal accident, Tampa moves to lower speed limit on Bayshore Blvd

TAMPA — City officials announced Thursday they are reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, one day after a mother and her 21-month-old daughter were struck and fatally injured by a speeding car as they crossed the street.

Starting today , city workers will begin posting new 35 mph speed limit signs — 5 mph slower than the current limit, said Jean Duncan, director of transportation and stormwater services.

RELATED COVERAGE Pushing the stroller, mashing the gas pedal: Mother and child die on Bayshore

The new speed limit will apply between Gandy Boulevard and Platt Street. Message boards along the road will notify drivers of the change.

The city already had planned to lower the speed limit by October with the completion of a $1.7 million project to narrow lanes between Gandy and Howard Avenue. But officials took an unusual step Thursday and moved up the change after Wednesday’s tragedy renewed a public outcry for increased safety on the road.

The mother, Jessica Raubenolt, 24, was pushing her daughter Lillia Raubenolt in a stroller across Bayshore at 11:43 a.m. when they were struck by one of two cars racing north on the road, Tampa police said. The mother was pronounced dead soon after the crash, and Lillia died Thursday at Tampa General Hospital. The two drivers and a passenger were arrested in the incident, the drivers on charges that include vehicular homicide.

RELATED COVERAGE Three arrested for street racing after mother fatally struck pushing stroller on Bayshore Boulevard

Duncan said the speed limit change is only possible because the lanes will be narrowed from 12 to 10 feet in the near future, a width that intuitively leads drivers to go slower because they are closer to other cars.

"We accelerated that based on what can be done quickly," Duncan said. "This is a reasonable thing we can do quickly."

She acknowledged the change will be viewed as a reactive move. Safety has long been seen as an issue on the road whose famed 4.5 mile unbroken sidewalk and views of Hillsborough Bay have made it a magnet for joggers, cyclists and walkers.

The road has few crossing points for pedestrians. There are none on the stretch where the fatality occurred at the intersection of West Knights Avenue.

"We have people demanding we do something immediately," Duncan said. "It’s a no-win situation."

The project to narrow Bayshore also includes a new bike lane on the southbound side. It is just the beginning of several projects aimed at increasing road safety.

Already in design is a plan to install pedestrian crosswalks with flashing beacons at S. Dakota Ave., S. Delaware Avenue, and midway between S. Brevard Avenue and W. Swann Avenue. And road planners are looking at pedestrian counts to determine a possible fourth location.

Another pedestrian crosswalk will likely be added south of Howard, Duncan said.

Narrower lanes, more crosswalks and a reduced speed limit were among safety recommendations made by a 2004 task force that was convened after a series of fatalities on Bayshore.

The group included residents, city officials, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who at the time was a county commissioner, and Vicki Pollyea, president of the Bayshore Gardens Neighborhood Association.

Pollyea said the city had been too slow to act on the report.

"The image of that stroller in the middle of Bayshore with the broken wheels is going to haunt me forever," she said. "I feel sad. We had the will power to make decisions but it requires government to react."

Duncan said the city has acted. The first of Bayshore’s bike lanes was begun in 2006. But there was strong opposition to reducing the speed limit and even to adding bike lanes to the road, she said. And the city was limited by financial issues during the Great Recession.

"Transportation projects take a long time,’’ she said.

Changing Bayshore is particularly complex because the road is owned by the county, which may have other priorities for its road budget. The city has to seek grants or state funding to add safety features like bike lanes, said Brad Baird, the city’s public works administrator.

"If we want the gold standard, we have to pay for it," he said.

He said that until Wednesday, the road had not had a fatality in 10 years.

County Commissioner Victor Crist said Thursday that after learning of the incident, he directed the county administrator to come up with ways Hillsborough County can help pay for flashing-beacon crosswalks along Bayshore.

"Six is not enough," he said. "It’s incredibly important. My heart goes out to the family."

Much of Bayshore lies in the district of Council Member Harry Cohen, who is running to be the city’s next mayor. He said city police already spend significant time patrolling the road.

A study done by his office found that of the 46,000 moving and non-moving violations issued by city police in 2017, some 2,600 — roughly 5 percent — were along Bayshore.

He agrees Bayshore needs more crosswalks but added that safety improvements are only effective if people drive more carefully.

"People have got to slow down," he said. "They’ve got to pay more attention to the road and stop texting while driving."

> Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times. >

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