Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let's Figure Out Getting Around Hillsborough County

I spent my afternoon today getting confused and dazed.

I watched the Hillsborough County Commission at a workshop trying to decide whether the seven-member governing board will be ready to let county voters decide whether to add a penny to the sales tax to start a light rail system, bolster the HART bus supply and do road projects.

Yeesh, what a mess. You have a proposed sales tax increase for a major transit plan on the workshop agenda and this is the crowd that cared enough to attend.

You have two good old boys -- Commissioners Jim Norman and Al Higginbotham -- who just hate the idea of county residents underwriting Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's light rail plan in Tampa. Pam was in the audience of 25 folks and must have been shaking her head after witnessing this commission session. There's Pam in green in the front row.

And there's County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a bicycle supporter and the biggest advocate for mass transit in the county commission. Sharpe was trying to rally his colleagues in the commission to get begind the transit plan.

Thing is nobody knows what government will be in charge of the transit plan, what the specific projects will be and how much money raised by the sales tax would be distributed among the county and the three cities.

Not all the money is going to transit. The proposed deal is 75 percent of the $200 million would go for commuter transit and 25 percent would go for a hodhe-podge of various transportation projects around the county.

Bill Varian of the St. Pete Times did this story on the workshop.

Generally, I'm in favor of mass transit. But until the county or HART or TBARTA or whoever presents a cogent mass transit plan that also includes bicycle facilities, I'm still undecided. There are still many details that must be provided.

After the meeting, Sharpe and Iorio were seen walking into a private area to chat.

* * *

Then it was off to the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), an advisory panel of the MPO (the county's transportation planning agency) that offers suggestions about bicycle and pedestrian issues in Hillsborough County and Tampa. It's a group of very well-intended pro-bicycle folks who work for various local government agencies and some at-large bicyclist-citizens including CBE owner Brian Eckman and Jim Shirk.

The BPAC doesn't have the legal teeth to make changes. But it can be assertive in making recommendations to various officials that can help bicyclists.

During the BPAC's monthly meeting, it was nice to hear my friends Anna Vasquez and Nico Stearley, bike commuters and HOK architects, give a presentation on a proposed greenway path underneath the Selmon Expressway. And my friend Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership discussed the Downtown Crit in Tampa set for March 27.

Meanwhile Brian Eckman, owner of Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium, retold the case when a worker at his store, Chad Luppino, was given a citation by a Tampa detective for biking in the road on the way to volunteering at a bike rode at the Children's Gasparilla Parade last month.

George Martin of the Florida Bicycle Association, who I met when we talked with Tampa Police about brushing up on bicycle laws, is supposed to meet the TPD again and hopefully will bring up this issue that raised by Brian.

Oh by the way, the recently-opened Curtis Hixon Park does not allow bicycling. Tampa, you are a very weird city when it comes to bicycling.

Funny thing about that park opening a few weeks ago. As the city's public works and utilities director, Steve Daignault, walked away from the park, I caught up with him and asked him when will the city establish bike routes to the new downtown park.

Well, John Marsh of the city's transportation division told me at the BPAC meeting that got an assignment -- come up with proposed bike routes to the Curtis Hixon Park.

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