TAMPA, Fla. — The City of Tampa seems prepared to “walk the walk” when it comes to sidewalks.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor Wednesday asked for support from the city council and the community of Tampa to ensure the community and visitors have safe sidewalks in neighborhoods.
For years, people living in some Tampa neighborhoods have complained about a lack of sidewalks as being inconvenient, and in some instances, like when kids walk to school, a potential hazard.
“Whether you do or don’t use the sidewalk, not having that option put individuals in danger,” Castor said.
Right now, new home construction is required to put sidewalks in front of the homes, but Castor explained how there are "exceptions" to that.
"There's an exception if it's not within three blocks of a school, there are exceptions if there's any type of structures, such as telephone poles, in front of the house," she said.
Castor said contractors are allowed to pay an in-lieu fee, but the city reportedly has not been as "strict" on the fees as they should have been, meaning they have not been collecting the money.
The changes to the ordinance that will take place on Thursday will "eliminate a lot of the exceptions to the sidewalk rule," the mayor explained.
Castor said the goal for the administration along with the community is to build sidewalks around the schools, which will make sure children have a "safe path" to school.
"We will start by focusing on our community schools, the schools in the neighborhood so that we can get our kids to and from school safely," she said.
With "tightening up" the sidewalk exceptions, Castor said she knows the city will also reach the goal of bringing vehicle-pedestrian and bicycle fatality down to zero.
"That's a very lofty goal in our community, but we think we can hit it and this is one small part of it," the mayor said.
But home builders warn the idea could have unintended consequences.
“I don’t think that that’s fair,” said Jennifer Motsinger, who represents the Tampa Bay Builders Association.
Builders say local prices are already too high for many to afford and that tacking on more fees doesn’t help. Also, they say people who want to add a pool or an addition to an existing home might also have to pay the sidewalk fee, making those improvements too expensive.
“Let’s take the goal, the overall reaching goals they have and let’s make sure that it makes sense and that it’s applicable,” said Motsinger, “And that it’s not hurting more people than it’s helping.”
Tampa has more than 1,300 miles of road without sidewalks, President of Sidewalk Stompers Emily Hinsdale said at the news conference.
Tampa has consistently ranked among the deadliest cities for pedestrians. A study was done by the advocacy group Smart Growth America placed Tampa as the eighth deadliest metro city for pedestrians.
According to the study, 968 pedestrians were killed in the Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater area between 2010 and 2019.
The city of Tampa says more sidewalks are a big step toward reducing those deaths. The city recently developed its "Vision Zero" program which is aimed at creating safety improvements over the next five years.
"This change impacts everyone... whether you say you do or don't use a sidewalk, not having that option puts individuals in danger," the mayor explained. "...I can't think of anything that is more important than the safety of kids making their way to and from school and this will have a great impact on it."