Some Say Medians Turn Away Business
Che Che Diaz is worried that a new concrete median could cost him his auto repair business.
"Putting in that median the way they did, it's just killing us. I don't know how we're going to survive," says Diaz, who co-owns the Tuffy tire and auto repair shop at Goolsby Pointe shopping center in Riverview.
Throughout Hillsborough County, traffic engineers are resorting more often to concrete medians to improve traffic safety.
The flat barriers keep cars from turning left across oncoming traffic. They're being installed on Boyette Road in Riverview, Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa and Busch Boulevard in northeast Tampa. They showed up on Hillsborough Avenue in late 2007 and this year will appear on South Dale Mabry Highway.
Business owners say they're all for traffic safety, but argue the push for medians is limiting how customers get to them, and that's costing them business.
Consider Diaz. A month ago, customers were able to turn left on McMullen Road or left from Boyette Road to cut across the shopping center to get to his shop.
Then medians went up and motorists discovered they couldn't turn left from either road. For many, getting to Diaz's business meant driving to the next corner and making a U-turn.
Heading home was equally circuitous. Drivers leaving the shopping center getting onto Boyette were forced to make U-turns to head west.
Diaz said business has dropped 50 percent since the configuration's introduction. The poor economy likely contributed, but he says his three other Tuffy shops have seen only a 10 percent to 15 percent slump during the same period.
Other Goolsby Pointe businesses are saying the same, and they're handing out fliers to customers telling them to call county officials.
Shopper Sandy Nitch said she and her mother were so bothered by the medians that Nitch went door to door in her neighborhood to hand out fliers.
"My mother's scared to go there," Nitch said.
Steve Valdez, a county spokesman, said more than 100 calls have poured in during the past month from residents and business owners.
So much attention has been paid that the county is changing how it contacts businesses and residents when proposing a median project.
In the future, instead of contacting only property owners, it also will contact tenants with hand-delivered notices. The Department Of Transportation already contacts owners and tenants. Valdez said property owners don't always pass on information to tenants.
Additionally, the county will alter the Boyette and McMullen project. Cut-throughs will be added to Boyette and McMullen, and engineers are studying whether to create a separate entrance at the shopping center's southeast corner.
"We'll make some changes, but we won't compromise safety standards and good engineering practices for access," he said.
Medians have been a bigger focus of road projects since the mid-1990s as engineers have looked to reduce conflict points, such as center turn lanes and median cut-throughs, to lower accident rates.
A DOT study of Hillsborough Avenue indicated a 33 percent reduction in crashes from 50th Street to Nebraska Avenue after medians were installed in 2007. Severe head-on or left-turn crashes declined 49 percent.
Steve Hodge, the DOT's access management engineer at the department's Tampa Bay office, said the state rarely provides cut-throughs after medians are installed.
After plans for medians are drawn up, businesses can appeal at public meetings or by going to the department's Access Management Review Committee, but safety concerns generally outweigh business concerns. Still, engineers will explore options, he said.
"The whole idea is to make the roadway safer. If it's dangerous for people to get there and there is a high accident count, then it's going to be detrimental to their business anyway," Hodge said.
James Webber, general manager of Woody's Auto Sales on Gandy Boulevard and Trask Street in South Tampa, takes no comfort in knowing a median will be added to Gandy Boulevard this year.
Auto sales nationwide are slumping. Making it difficult to get to his car business is the last thing he needs. Many drivers will simply continue to the next lot, where access might be easier.
"I've been here 37 years and have never seen it like this. With the economy and this road project, it's a challenge," he said. "It seems kind of like a lot of things are hitting us all at once."
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