A call for crosswalks

The traffic flow on the intersection of Holly Drive and 50th Street can seem endless.

Without any form of traffic signals on 50th Street, it is not uncommon to see pedestrians lining either side of the street, waiting for the opportunity to run across the road. At the same time, cars stack up behind stop signs on Holly and Executive drives waiting to enter traffic.

And, when impatience builds, accidents occur.

“My car was totaled,” said Krista West, a junior majoring in mass communications who was driving along 50th Street toward Fletcher Avenue last October when a car pulled out in front of her.

“My air bags went off so I suffered chemical burns all along my left arm from the air bags, which I still have scars from,” she said. “My right wrist was broken and I suffered from back pain and a neck sprain.”

Due to the rising concern for safety, the area will eventually undergo a renovation, said Senior Engineering Specialist for the Hillsborough County Public Works Department Robert Kouveras. Within the next few months, the intersection between North 50th Street and USF Holly Drive will receive painted crosswalks.

A crash summary from the Hillsborough County Public Works Department shows 68 car accidents at this intersection between January 2005 and October 2010, 32 of which occurred because a car on Holly failed to yield.

“I have realized that ‘being in the right’ still hurts in the emergency room,” West said. “Even though I had the right of way, doesn’t mean that other people care.”

The crash summary only documented accidents involving two cars and did not report pedestrian accidents, though one involved a bicyclist. Nonetheless, pedestrian accidents do occur.

Last year Earl Ray’s daughter, who lives on campus, was hit by a car while crossing 50th Street.

“The officer that investigated my daughter’s accident last year said that she should have walked down to Fletcher to cross the street,” he said. “If you’re on the east side of 50th and you walk down to Fletcher to cross, there’s no sidewalk or anything on the west side – it’s a big ditch and so I said, ‘Is she suppose to walk in the road?'”

Though the area has a history of safety concerns, Kouveras said he had never received a request to look at the intersection “until recently.”

Now, the Public Works Traffic Engineering Team has a long list of additions for the intersection. According to emails sent to Ray from the Public Works Department, plans include reducing the speed limit on 50th Street from 45 to 40 mph, constructing two “uncontrolled” mid-block crosswalks across 50th Street with pedestrian signs and installing 16 streetlights along the road.

“We are waiting for additional input from the USF community regarding locations of crossings,” Kouveras said. “Once this has been determined, then we will issue a work order for our shop to install the signs and pavement markings.”

In a November email to Ray, University Police (UP) Chief Thomas Longo said a task force was partnering with Hillsborough County to examine safety issues at the intersection.

Kouveras said the painted crosswalks should be installed within the next few months, but he did not have a time frame for the rest of the plan.

Since the intersection has been added to an unfunded list, it has to work its way up the list of priorities for funding before any work can be done, Kouveras said. However, Major J.D. Withrow, assistant chief of police for UP, stated in a December email to Ray that county funds for exploring safety options on 50th Street “have been earmarked.”

Though the Traffic Engineering Team responded to concerned emails from Ray and his wife with plans for the intersection, none mentioned whether the plans are definite or have a construction timeline.

This uncertainty may be due, in part, to the fact that alterations to this intersection require input from multiple departments. In addition, because there are both public and private roads involved in the project, all owners have to agree with the plans of action.

When USF student and On50th apartments resident Rose Solomon submitted requests to the City of Tampa Customer Service Center for a road safety audit on the intersection in January, she received a response that stated: “North 50th St. jurisdictional authority is Hillsborough County and USF Holly Drive as well as Excellence Dr. are private. You may want to contact USF concerning the side roads intersection North 50th St.”

When crash statistics for the intersection were requested from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Records Department, the information wasn’t found in the system and the request was redirected to the Tampa Sheriff’s Department. Since 50th Street is under Hillsborough County’s jurisdiction, the Tampa Sheriff’s Department could not fill the request because the area is not their jurisdiction, according to the Public Works department.

While plans are finalized, concerned students and parents like Ray will have to wait for the promised improvements to be made.

“I would like to see more people get involved with this project,” Ray said. “I think they ought to put students first, or pedestrians, before money.”