This morning, Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium employee Chad Luppino was bicycling to volunteer at the Children's Gasparilla Parade Bike Rodeo in Tampa. A "bike rodeo" is a bike event by the local sheriff's office to give free helmets to kids while also teaching them bike-riding skills like pedaling around cones and stopping properly.
But for Chad, a funny thing happened on the way to help teach kids about biking at the bike event. A Tampa police officer stopped Chad for bicycling on the street and told Chad to bike on the sidewalk.
Welcome to Tampa, FL government -- a government that's just a little behind the rest of the country when it comes to bicycling.
Brian Eckman, who owns Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium, tells me Chad's girlfriend called him at the CBE shop and that she was "freaking out" because an officer wanted to arrest Chad for bicycling in the road.
Brian tells me Chad advised the police officer a bicyclist has a right to bike in the road.
The officer didn't buy it. The officer told Chad to get off the road and bike on the sidewalk.
Brian says the officer, who placed Chad on the hood of his cruiser, ended up citing Chad. The citation: "Refused lawful order concerning traffic from police
Jim Shirk, a bike rodeo volunteer and bicycle advocate who helps on many bike events, went over and tried to explain to the police officer that a bicyclist has a right to bike on the road.
"Jim Shirk tried to explain the law but was told (by the officer) to not get involved," Brian says.
Jim Shirk tells me Chad was singled out by the officer when, in fact, many other people were bicycling on Bayshore Blvd. at the time. Jim says because Chad has a BMX biker look, he was likely singled out by the officer.
"At the time people, people were biking all over he place," Jim says.
Jim believes Chad was cited by the officer because the officer thought Chad was not respecting him.
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What is the city of Tampa's problem with bicycling?
-- One day I called the city transportation department and asked for a "Share the Road" sign on Rowlett Park Drive, a very narrow road that I take when heading toward the USF campus from Seminole Heights. The city transportation woman said it costs too much to maintain. (I'm not making that up). A transportation director later approved a Share the Road sign request, but then got fired by Mayor Iorio.
-- On the same road, HART bus drivers nearly killed me THREE different times when passing me during the past three years because each driver told me he did not know that a motorist has to pass a bicyclist in Florida by a minimum clearance of three feet.
-- Also on Rowlett Park Drive, a police officer directing traffic around an accident ordered me off the road and onto the sidewalk. She also did not understand a bicyclist's right to be on the road.
-- A Tampa police officer ordered a bicyclist who was cycling across Gandy Bridge off the bridge by telling the bicyclists to bike against traffic back to the Tampa side. To her credit, then Assistant Chief Jane Castor (who is now chief and also a bicyclist) called me to tell me that police would be instructed to not stop bicyclists from crossing the Gandy Bridge.
-- The city's public works and transportation VIOLATED its own master plan for bike lanes by not including a bike lane on Tyler and Cass as part of a utility and road project. An email explaining why a bike lane was left out of the project told me bike lanes are "NON-ESSENTIAL."
-- A Tampa officer cited a bicyclist for impeding traffic when he was in a traffic lane -- even when he was allowed to be in the lane under law because the width of the lane was too narrow, one of the circumstances under which a bicyclist can legally take the lane. The bicyclist is fighting the ticket and has a court date in a few months.
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Memo to Pam Iorio and the city of Tampa government: there is a bicycle movement in this country and Tampa's long-held belief that bicyclists should not be on the road is so 1970s. Translation: Tampa, time to come into the 21th century.
Other cities across the country -- from Boston to Portland -- have embraced bicycling as a great way to relieve traffic. They have invested in a bicycle infrastructure of bike lanes and wider roads to encourage bicyclists to take to the road.
Here in Tampa, a police officer stops a bicyclist on the way to a bike event to help kids bike.
What's so dishearterning about this is that a month ago I along with bike laws expert George Martin of the Florida Bicycle Association met with Tampa Assistant Police Chief John Bennett and two other police officers about having George train Tampa police regarding a bicyclist's right to the road.
John seemed interested in improving safety for bicyclists.
But if Tampa Police do not even understand a bicyclist's right to the road, how are they going to keep us safe on the road?