Six years ago I wrote a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation's Tampa office. I wrote that based on my two years of bicycling around the Tampa/Hillsborough County area, it was plain to see that the Tampa/Hillsborough area was the most dangerous place to ride a bicycle in the U.S.
Sadly, tragically and regrettably, the high number of bicyclists dying on the streets of the Tampa/Hillsborough County area proved my letter prophetic.
12 bicyclists are dead in Hillsborough County in 2012.
A dozen bicyclists were also killed in Tampa/Hillsborough in 2010. As Andy Clarke of thesaid, the high number of bicyclists dying on the roads here is appalling.
I might be bicycling into the Tampa bicycle advocacy sunset, but I am leaving bicyclists and community leaders a four-point plan that goes beyond the Band-aid style responses we have seen so far and focuses more on the systematic issues of enhancing and growing bicycling in Tampa Bay.
Too often, the local bicycle measures are re-active, responding to perceived safety issues.
My philosophy is to enact public policy that would get more bicyclists on the road and create a more bicycle-friendly region. More bicyclists on roadways and trails, more educated drivers and bicyclists, more awareness for the appreciation of bicycling and more bike-friendly infrastructure will lower the crash numbers.
Local governments are required by their comprehensive plans -- their legal blueprints for growth and development -- to create transportation networks that accommodate bicycles.
It's time for you as a coalition, alliance or group or whatever you choose to call yourselves to hold them accountable. I leave you with my four points:
1. FUND IT, BUILD IT. SWFBUD has advanced the BAM Network in Tampa/Hillsborough. BAM stands for Bicycle Area Mobility and it means the city and county working together to build an integrated network of paved trails and roads with bike lanes/separated bike lanes like a highway system for bicyclists. Don't focus on individual trails here and there, but seek a system of connecting trails and safe roads with great bike lanes that allow bicyclists fast, efficient, pleasant safe connections throughout Tampa/Hillsborough. Projects include connecting the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and Suncoast Trail; building the 17-mile-long Bypass Canal Trail from New Tampa to State Road 60; building the South Coast Greenway; building a multi-use trail along State Road 60 from the Bypass Canal Trail to the Selmon Greenway; converting one side of Nuccio Parkway into a multi-use bike-walk trailway to link downtown Tampa to Ybor City; applying sharrows to the entire length of Cypress Avenue from North Boulevard to the U-Path trail that leads to the Courtney Campbell Causeway/Clearwater/New Causeway Trail.
Think bicycle highway system and network and lean on Mayor Buckhorn, the County Commissioners, the City Council members, Jean Duncan the city of Tampa's transportation manager and the MPO and its Board.
2. ROADS FOR ALL. SWFBUD appreciates the efforts to educate bicyclists to avoid being struck by cars. It's a great idea for local police to hand out lights and reflective vests to the "Guys on Bikes" so that they can be seen at night. Education is paramount for bicyclists. But bicyclist error accounts for half of the bike-car crashes. Car driver error accounts for the other half. So where is the public awareness, campaigns and education for car drivers to avoid hitting bicyclists? We need a public awareness campaign with a singular strong message: Roads are for everyone no matter what type of vehicle you drive -- motorized or human-powered.
Lean on the Florida DOT to conduct a public awareness campaign that roads are for all and that bicyclists have a right to the road and that car drivers need to be patient and accepting of bicyclists on the public right-of-ways.
3. THE LAW. SWFBUD established strong relationships with Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, Assistant Police Chiefs John Newman and John Bennett, many Tampa officers and sheriff's office law enforcement. A new group must meet with law enforcement leaders and stress to them that police must crack down on impatient, aggressive and distracted car drivers and enforce the 3-Foot buffer law. Police need to understand that bicyclists have a right to take the lane under certain legal circumstances. Bicyclists need their support and engage police at all levels.
4. GOVERNMENT BUY-IN TO BICYCLE CULTURE. SWFBUD established a great relationship with Hillsborough County parks to hold Bicycle Bash events at Flatwoods, with the county parks fully supportive and backing bicycling. Any new group has to lean on Mayor Buckhorn, City Council members like Lisa Montelione, Yolie Capin, Mike Suarez, Harry Cohen and Mary Mulhern to get the city of Tampa to also provide free bicycle culture events such as "Ciclovias" where boulevards like Bayshore Boulevard is closed once a month on a Sunday morning for example to allow bicyclists and non-vehicular traffic full usage. SWFBUD also approached the Tampa Hillsborough expressway Authority to ask that agency to close the upper deck of the Selmon Expressway for periodic early Sunday closures to allow bicycle-only use. It's all about convincing local governments to buy into bicycling that will lead to more people on bicycles. City of Tampa, hire a full-time bicycle-ped coordinator to push the bicycle agenda on all fronts -- from events and promotions to building infrastructure and awareness. It's not just you as a bicycle alliance that has to buy into bicycling -- it has to be institutions like local governments, hospitals, colleges etc. that have to be partners. Start a Tampa Ciclovia, for example.
My final message: I will miss you all and I will watch from afar as you take the baton and take bicycling to the next level in Tampa/Hillsborough. Remember, roads are for everyone. Let's all be safe.