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Tampa Mayoral Candidates Promise Road Improvements, More Bike Lanes At Forum

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Tampa Mayor hopefuls discussed pedestrian and bicyclist safety Tuesday night. From left-right: Jane Castor, Harry Cohen, LaVaughn King, Topher Morrison, David Straz, Mike Suarez, Ed Turanchik)

The seven candidates for Tampa mayor laid out their vision for the city's transportation infrastructure at a forum at Sparkman Wharf Tuesday night.

The candidates braved 50 degree weather to discuss how to improve the city's aging roads and sidewalks, and many said they would use money from the recently passed sales tax referendum to do it.

The one percent sale tax increase is expected to generate about $274 million for use throughout Hillsborough County.

Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen said his top priority for the new funding would be to address the lack of sidewalks in many neighborhoods. He said the issue disproportionately endangers the city's school children.

"Students all over our city are walking up to 2 miles on inadequate sidewalks and inadequate infrastructure, with inadequate crosswalks and signalization," he said. "I feel that student walking routes to school are the number one candidate for sidewalk funding in this community."

Philanthropist David Straz, who has already spent more than $1 million on his campaign, repeatedly said the biggest task for improving pedestrian safety is educating drivers on bike lanes and cross walks. He also said the city needs a mayor who will ensure the new transit funding goes to useful projects, a sentiment echoed by former county commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Turanchik is the only mayoral candidate who opposed the referendum. But he says now that it has passed, he wants to make sure the money from the sales tax goes to road improvements and mass transit alternatives.

"The taxpayers did something remarkable: they passed an $18 billion tax without a plan," Turanchik said. "My caution on that was there is no plan behind it. So my job as the Mayor is to create a great plan that works for all of us and make sure the lobbyists and developers and special interests keep their hands off of it."

Straz and former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor both promised to create an advisory board or citizens committee on traffic issues.

Castor is considered by many to be a front-runner in the race. She said her plans for improving transportation infrastructure will include creating a grid system and introducing more speed controls on Tampa roads, such as raised intersections and red light cameras.

"I used to ride my bike from Seminole Heights all the way out to 30th, down to Bruce B. Downs and all the way back," she said. "I certainly would not do that today, because we don't have a safe enough city to do that in."

Businessman Topher Morrison focused less on road improvements and more on alternative modes of transit. Morrison told the audience he hasn't owned a vehicle in nine years. On the issue of congestion in downtown Tampa, Morrison said the issue isn't a lack of parking, but too much parking.

He said fewer parking spaces and a variable price parking system that costs more when there is higher demand could make the city more walkable and encourage people to use mass transit.

"We have created a non-walkable city by continually adding more parking spaces," Morrison said. "We have plenty of parking spaces. Statistically we have 7 parking spaces for every car in America. That is insane."

All of the candidates, including Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez and community activist LaVaughn King, said they supported the Vision Zero agenda created by county planners, which calls for more buffered bike lanes, high visibility cross walks and traffic enforcement.

Tuesday's forum was hosted by the non-profit advocacy group Walk Bike Tampa. The mayoral election is March 5, 2019.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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