Friday, February 27, 2009

Tampa and Bicycling -- There is a Glimmer of Hope

On Thursday afternoon I went on behalf of SWFBUD to the hallowed halls of the city council meeting room and chatted with two Tampa City Council members and two city staffers about a topic you don't hear much in city government -- bicycling on the streets of Tampa.

I waited a long time for this meeting and Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena arranged the session. Councilwoman Mary Mulhern was also there.

Tampa is like no other major city I have lived in -- for years and year its city government appeared to follow a philosophy of funnelling bicyclists off paved streets and onto off-road trails and sidewalks. By the lack of bike lanes it's apparent city government is not keen on bicycling in city streets as a way to get around.

When most big cities see the logic of swapping cars for bicyclists to lighten the commuter congestion load, Tampa has had a history of trying to keep bicyles off the road. When I arrived here five years ago I did not see a bike lane in the city.

Times have changed -- a little. The state DOT installed bike lanes on Nebraska and Tampa Streets. And the city of Tampa striped what might be its longest bike lane in the city when it repaved Manhattan Avenue a year or two ago.

So against this backdrop I joined Seminole Heights bicyclists Chip Thomas and Ken Surrock along with Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and Gena Torres, the Hillsborough County MPO bicycle/ped coordinator with a session with Steve Daignault, an engineer by trade and the administrator of the city's Public Works and Utilities Services and Karla Price, who handles trails for the city.

Irvin Lee, director of the city's public works department, watched the meeting on in-house city TV from his office.

I asked the city to establish a bicycle transportation program complete with a bicycle coordinator and a policy of striping bike lanes when road work is done. In fact, we all asked Daignault for the city to establish a bicycle point person to make sure bicyclists' interests were included when road work as done. I also asked that bike lanes be striped on wide one-way streets such as Platt and Cleveland and to install Share the Road signs when the few bike lanes do end.

I thought Karen Kress made one of the most salient points when she asked why if other cities can figure out how to integrate bike lanes into a transportation network why can't Tampa do likewise?

Ken Sturrock pointed out that he takes his bicycle and dollars to St. Petersburg because that city welcomes bicyclists with a legitimate bicycle infrastructure system.

Steve Daignault heard us out, though he grew frustrated at times.

Irvin Lee, the city public works chief, was polite to return my call after the meeting and pledged his commitment to do all he could to get more bike lanes in the city, though he cautioned that he's facing staff and budget cuts. I have talked with Irvin Lee in the past and I believe he's sincere about trying to improve bicycling conditions in Tampa. he pointed out, for example, that the city will have bike lanes as part of the 40th Street improvement project.

He admitted the city is behind and has a way to catch up when it comes to bicycling. ut at least he acknowledged the problem and appeared willing to do something about. Let's just hope he instructs his staff to do likewise.

I can say that bicycling is on the radar of city government -- which is a step in the right direction. It will take time to change the attitude of Tampa city government. Eventually, they will see what we see -- more bike shops are opening because more people want to ride bicycles. We have a new Tampa Bicycle Co-op, a Tampa BayCycle comuting program and a new bike club -- Seminole Heights Bicycle Club. It's all part of a movement and it will happen -- it just takes time to change old ways.

March is a big month for bicycling in the Tampa Bay area with the Tampa BayCycle program off and biking.

Sunday, March 1, 8 AM-2PM: Cyclovia in Clearwater. Two miles of downtown Cleveland Street is closed to cars and people are encouraged to bike, walk or do any non-vehicular activity they want.

Saturday, March 7, 10AM-4PM: Swap Meet at Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium. Come to a bicycle flea market and get great deals!!

Saturday, March 21, 11 AM+: Downtown Tampa tutns into a bicycle-race crit and enjoy a health fair!

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