Tampa’s rapid population growth, coupled with its expensive housing market and underdeveloped public transportation systems, is proving problematic as the city continues to expand.
Even before the pandemic, the population of the Tampa metro area was expected to grow by about 40,000 people per year between 2019 and 22, according to macroetrends.net. With the appeal of Florida’s lax COVID-19 policies, Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs Elizabeth Strom speculates that these numbers understate the growth the region has actually experienced.
While other Florida cities like Miami are becoming some of the most expensive in the country, Tampa has the charm of being a home away from home, Strom said, attracting both Northerners and Floridians to the area. .
From mid-2020 to mid-2021, the Miami metro area lost more than 34,000 residents, according to a March Associated Press Article.
Conversely, the Tampa metro area saw a net growth of about 42,000 residents in 2021, according to the United States Census Bureau. The city is now home to around 385,000 people, while Miami has grown from 442,000 in 2020 to 440,000 in 2021.
The price of rent has not been spared as more and more people seek to find accommodation in the area, according to Strom.
In 2022, the median rent for two-bedroom apartments in areas surrounding USF, such as downtown Tampa, is $3,043 and around $1,600 in Temple Terrace, according to Zumper.
“’Where am I going to live?’ ‘How far from campus?’ ‘Can I live?’ “If I find somewhere affordable, but it’s like Pasco County, how much do I have to spend on my car to come here?” are all questions that Strom says torment students.
Part of the equation Strom said is necessary to build a better Tampa is improving public transportation.
Tampa became the only top 20 metro area to spend less than $213 million a year on transportation, according to the Tampa Bay Weather. In 2022, the city has allocated $155 million for transportation infrastructure costs.
Coming from Dubai, young international relations student Julia Habchi was surprised to learn that the streets of Tampa include more lanes and faster speed limits than those of her home country. She said that although supercars fill the streets of Dubai, drivers hardly reach such worrying speeds as here.
Since she doesn’t have a vehicle herself, Habchi resorted to riding the scooter to destinations alongside cars exceeding double her speed in extremely narrow bike lanes. When Habchi has to travel longer distances, she said she has to rely on expensive transportation services like Uber due to the lack of clarity in the bus system.
“My brain was just doing gymnastics to understand [the bus routes out],” she said. “Routes and maps of different colors don’t make sense to me.”
Especially for those who can’t afford to frequent transportation services, Habchi thinks it puts a financial strain on people making normal commutes to work or groceries.
For Habchi, it was easier for him to carry his groceries on his back and ride his electric scooter rather than trying to use the bus to do his shopping.
“I was just carrying heavy groceries like on my arms, on my back because public transport here… [like the] the buses don’t really go to the places [you need them to],” she says.
The lack of adequate public transportation in Tampa has resulted in a car-dependent infrastructure, while other cities, such as New York, have normalized the use of public transportation in daily commuting, according to the Tampa Bay Weather.
Despite being about 40 square miles smaller than Tampa, Atlanta supports nearly triple the number of transit routes with 100 fewer buses, according to Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority.
Before arriving in Tampa just three weeks ago, Habchi said it was not uncommon for her to use public transportation such as the subway to get out. Even then, she said the bike paths and walking paths were much larger and more comfortable to use.
In addition to producing better public transportation systems, Strom said it’s important for Tampa to provide alternatives that create a safer environment for pedestrians.
In 2021, Tampa was ranked the eighth most dangerous city in the country for pedestrians, according to KF&B Law. During the same year, in Hillsborough County, there were a total of 655 accidents involving pedestrians and 65 of them resulted in death.
“Let’s look at Fowler Avenue,” Strom said. “There are people living there and students going to school there, and they have to go across the street. There is almost no way to cross this street without putting yourself in danger. It’s just the way these roads are designed.
Strom said the reason accidents happen is because streets are designed to encourage dangerous pedestrian behavior.
“There are many designs for boulevard type streets where you still move traffic. I’ve seen this in New York, where you have service roads on the side. So you have a sidewalk, buildings, sidewalk, service road, and then you have kind of a landscaped median,” she said.
“There are more barriers, so if someone tries to cross, there are more places to stop and wait, and you’re still moving traffic, but you’re kind of taking traffic that’s must turn off and move in a somewhat different way.”
Even with all the changes the city is juggling, Strom said Tampa’s future isn’t just dark and bleak. In fact, she said residents can support better change by voting yes in the transport referendum in November.
If passed, the referendum would introduce a 1% sales tax, which residents have paid since 2018, according to Strom. Money accrued from the tax would be used to promote changes that move Tampa away from being a car-dependent city in the future if properly planned by urban developers, she said.
“The first thing we do to increase transit funding is we have to push ourselves and nobody likes to hear that,” she said.
“We are going to have to pay this 1% tax so that we can have more robust public transport. But I also think that’s where professional planning comes in. We have to think about planning, assuming we want a future that doesn’t depend so much on the car.