Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wow, A Bike Lane Got Some Political Attention

Tonight I represented SWFBUD at the MPO2035 Long Range Transportation Plan hearing at the county center in downtown Tampa. The Plan was approved by the MPO Board, a collection of county commissioners, city council members and transportation officials to make decisions about transportation planning.

No surprise the 2035 was approved.

But what was a major surprise was when MPO Board members Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder (interested in running for county commission), County Commissioner Rose Ferlita (interested in running for Tampa mayor) and County Commissioner Mark Sharpe (you know he's going to run for something) talked about a bike lane.

I know, who knew three politicos were so interested in a bike lane?

But the bike lane issue surfaced at the hearing when local South County activist Mariella Smith did a terrific job explaining how the proposed bike lanes under the 2035 Plan were centered around the Tampa area and that bike lanes were lacking on Shell Point Road and 19th Avenue in south county.

Dingdfelder, Ferlita and Sharpe all voiced concerns about making sure the bike lane would be striped under the plan.

For the record, I told the MPO Board that the tiny slice of the proposed money pie for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure was too small compared to the money spent on light rail and cars under the proposed plan. The MPO spent a lot of time working on this 2035 Plan, and MPO staffers Beth Alden and Gena Torres who are Seminole Heights residents do support bicycling and pedestrian improvements.

But if the Tampa Bay area is going to move up from being near the bottom of the barrel in the U.S. in terms of bicycle and ped safety, our region needs a Marshall Plan-like overhaul of our bicycle and ped infrastructure and needs the city of Tampa Transportation Dept. to do more than build more than bike lanes on TWO roads (Manhattan Avenue and 40th Street) in the six years that I have lived in Tampa.

* * *

Mariella Smith summarized the meeting and sent out a notice about the MPO meeting:

Although we didn't get our bikeways added to the 2035 Transportation Plan's list of funded projects, we did make progress at tonight's final hearing of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board.

Thanks to all of you who sent in comments and e-mails, some of our elected officials got the message loud and clear tonight -- that South County citizens want to see our community connected with greenways, trails and bikeways. The issue is now on the radar of our transportation planners and decision-makers, and they are promising to find some other way of funding these amenities, which we have spent years planning for.

I spoke about the need for SAFE bikeways down here, and showed their own map of funded bikeways on the ELMO, pointing out that there are LOTS of little purple lines indicating bikeways being funded all through Tampa, downtown, north Tampa and Brandon, but NOT ONE south of Bloomingdale. (They do plan to fund the Sun Coast Trail, one of our 2 major paved trails [shown as a dashed green line], but NONE of the connecting bikeways like they plan to fund in the rest of the county [shown as solid purple lines]. Our connecting bikeways are on their "needs" list, but not on their list of "funded projects.")

Joe Smith spent a good part of his allotted 3 minutes speaking in support of Greenways & Bikeways for South County, too, highlighting our area's history of planning for these corridors as part of our goal of promoting ecotourism. Alan Snel (cycling advocate supreme) spoke in support of more funding for bikeways throughout the county. Thank you, Joe & Alan!

John Dingfelder really went to bat for us! (He's a member of the MPO Board, a Tampa City Councilman, and a candidate for County Commission.) He reiterated the point I made that MANY bikeways were being funded everywhere else, but NONE in South County, and he asked the board to look again at that map of funded bikeways. When county staff said they couldn't fund any bikeways in South County because so many other roads elsewhere were higher on the priority list, given their criteria of population & accidents etc., Dingfelder argued that the criteria needs to include some consideration of equity. He said as it stands, they're treating all of south county like we don't ride bikes.

John Dingfelder acknowledged the years we have spent working on community plans that include these trails, and he pressed hard for staff to revisit the issue within the next 6 months, and find some other sources of funding. Transportation staff began tonight thinking of ways this could be done -- possibly in conjunction with resurfacing projects. County Commissioner Mark Sharpe also voiced support for bikeways in general, and Commissioner Rose Ferlita indicated a willingness to work on this in the future with us.

Thanks to all of us pulling together, we made our county leaders & planners aware of the need for viable, connecting greenways & bikeways; particularly in South Hillsborough; and specifically the bikeways looping east-west along Shell Point Rd. & 19th Ave. -- connecting Ruskin, Sun City Center, 4 schools, 2 libraries, 2 parks, the Suncoast Greenway and the bus/transit station. They now know that this IS important to us, and they are listening, and trying to find ways to turn these "needs" into funded projects.

Thanks for all your help!
Mariella Smith

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