Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chicago's Lakefront Park System

The downtown lakefront of Chicago is amazing -- a mega-wide band of green space and trails.

They took their waterfront and celebrated it by making it open and wide and accessible with mammoth green parks. More like St. Petersburg and less like Tampa, that's for sure.

Take in some of the views.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bicycling In Chicagoland

While in Chicago on business, I saw a ton of bicyclists. Check out this bike inside The Loop in downtown Chicago.

Then it was off to a White Sox-Dodgers game at Cellular Field Friday night and check outthe bicycle storage area on the Red Line train platform outside the baseball park.
This is how you di it folks!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tampa Bob Buckhorn Takes To The Bicycle And Pledges To Support 3-Foot Law

This morning at 7:30 AM Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn donned a bike helmet and hopped on a Tampa Police bicycle and pedaled about two miles from Davis Islands to downtown Tampa and the Tampa Police headquarters for a fun bike-to-work event put on by the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

The mayor pledged his support for bicycle safety, joking that's he's more into three feet distances between bicyclsists and motorists than the famous six-foot distance he supported between strippers and customers when he was a Tampa city councilman years ago.

Tampa Police also unveiled its 3 Feet decal program on the rear window of its police cruisers and its bike safety campaign. Thank you Assistant Police Chief John Bennett for pledging the police support.

Let's check out the Mayor Bob bicycle scene. There's Mayor Bob ready to roll.

There's Jim Shirk and Jose Menendez.

There's Lea, Tony and Gena -- three fine bicyclists who appreciate the value of bicycling in Tampa.

There's the fast-growing son of MPO staffer Gena Torres, who has worked on a local bicycle safety action plan.

Biking on Davis Islands as we head for downtown Tampa.

Mayor Bob comes off the ramp and on to Bayshore Boulevard. Bob quipped as we biked on Bayshore, "Someone call the mayor and tell him Bayshore needs to be fixed."

There's the proof that Bob is a good bicyclist -- the mayor passes me on the uphill of the Platt Street Bridge, blowing me away like Lance did to the field in the French Alps during the Tour de France.

The mayor is happy after crossing the Platt Street Bridge with his life intact.

The mayor gets ready to turn left on Franklin.

Mayor Bob and Gena Torres of the MPO who works on bike issues side-by-side as they head for the Tampa Police Department.

Mayor Bob chats with my friend Tony of Seminole Heights.

There's Sheila wearing a Downtown Crit T-shirt chatting with Mayor Bob. Sheila was one of the earliest downtown residents.

Group shot with the mayor. The mayor has his arm around me as I keep Bob up on his feet after the two-mile ride -- ONLY KIDDING! Seriously, Bob did great on the bike and his cadence was excellent. He had the RPMs up and looked like a natural bike commuter.

Great job Karen Kress of the Downtown Partnership for bringing Mayor Buckhorn and the Tampa Police Department together for the bike to work event and the TPD Share the Road squad car decal program and bike safety campaign.

Mayor Buckhorn addresses the media with the Bicycles Are Vehicles message on the portable sign that TPD District II uses in Seminole Heights and other locations.

A look at the Tampa Police car with the share the road decal. Thank you Stadium Toyota on Dale Mabry Highway for underwriting the costs for the decal.

Tampa Mayor Buckhorn Promotes Bike to Work Day

What: The Mayor is promoting National Bike to Work Day and announcing TPD’s “Share the Road” safety campaign.

When: Thursday, May 19, 2011
7:30 am—Bike ride
7:50 am—News conference following the bike ride

Where: Bike ride starting point—Marjorie Park, 115 Columbia Drive on Davis Islands
News conference—Tampa Police Department Downtown Headquarters, 411 North Franklin Street

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tampa's Ride of Silence Remembers Bicyclists Killed By Motorists

Tonight about 50 bicyclists pedaled the streets of Tampa from downtown past the ghost bikes of retired Navy Admiral LeRoy Collins and Diane Vega after hearing words from Admiral Collins' son, Ed Collins, and the daughter of Diane, Genevieve. It was an emotionally moving night as we rode our bicycles in silence to remember the 14 bicyclists who have been killed in Hillsborough County since the start of 2010.

The Ride of Silence is a ride held in cities across the country to remember those bicyclists killed on roads around our nation.

My comrade Ellen Pierson rode for a close friend who was killed while biking in Louisiana on a training ride for the recent Police Unity Tour.

Nice work by Drew who worked with Jose Menendez to organize the Ride of Silence. There was also Rides of Silence from the USF campus and in the Dunedin/Clearwater area.

Ed Collins told the bicyclists to get involved.

The local FOX-TV station interviewed Ed.

A motorist ran a red light on Oct. 1 and killed bicyclist Diane Vega at the corner of Himes and Spruce in Tampa. Diane's family have attended events to keep Diane's memory alive and Genevieve thanked the bicyclists for riding in tonight's event.

Ed Collins listens to Genevieve talk about the Ride of Silence meaning for her family.

There's Drew and Karen Kress.

Steve Swiger had the NHL playoffs look.

Biking in downtown.

Heading out of downtown.

On Howard Avenue getting ready to turn left on Kennedy.

Who says you can't bike on Kennedy? We did tonight.

The night's youngest rider.

Steve remembers retired Navy Admiral Collins with the two stars on the black arm band.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Today's Court Hearing For Motorist Who Killed Bicyclist Diane Vega Oct. 1

Bicyclist Jose Menendez attended today's court hearing for a motorist who drove through a red light at Spruce and Himes in Tampa and killed bicyclist Diane Vega on Oct. 1, 2010.

This is Jose's report:

I went to the Edgecombe Courthouse this morning, hoping to see the hearing for the driver charged with running the red light at Spruce & Himes, and killing Diane Vega last Oct. 1st. I ended up witnessing a very sad scene in a family's tragedy.

From past experience both as a juror and a potential witness, I knew the judges' dockets are so crowded that hearings rarely start on time. So I took a chance and arrived at the courthouse about 10:30. By the time, I got through security and made it to courtroom 300 where the hearing was supposed to be held, it was about 10:45. In another strange coincidence, just as I walking toward the courtroom door, a bailiff opened it from the inside and told the people waiting in the hall, including Diane Vega's mother, sister, and several witnesses, that they could enter for the start of the hearing. So I hadn't missed any of it. I walked in and sat down behind Alexandra Zayas, the St. Pete Times reporter who told me about the hearing. The only other news media person I saw in the courtroom was a Times photographer.

Unlike trials you may see on TV, there was no prosecutor. First, the judge, Joelle Ann Ober, would question each witness; then the defense attorney would cross-examine them. Some of the witnesses weren't too helpful. For example, the driver of the first car that was hit, a Lincoln Town Car, said she didn't see the car that hit her or know what direction it was going. A few times during testimony, the judge said she was getting confused. It didn't help that two SUVs were involved in the crash, a Nissan Murano that allegedly ran the red light going north on Himes and a GMC Yukon that was hit while sitting at a red light, facing west on Spruce, and sometimes witnesses would just refer to "the SUV." I think testimony about red lights on both Himes and Spruce at the same time may have confused her too. I don't recall any witness making it clear that eastbound traffic on Spruce got both a green light and a green left-turn signal while the westbound Spruce traffic and all the traffic on Himes had to wait at red lights. (The TPD officer who was supposed to testify about the crash investigation couldn't make it to court for the hearing.)

Diane Vega's mother, sister, and son were sitting behind me, and several times during testimony, her mother started sobbing quietly. As you can imagine, she was especially upset when a woman who was driving a car that was waiting on Spruce behind the Yukon testified about seeing Diane get hit, jumping out of her car, and looking for her body, first under the Nissan SUV because that's where the bike was wedged, then finally finding her unresponsive with fixed eyes. When the witness started to describe holding Diane's hand and talking to her to try to get any response, with Diane's mother crying in the background, the defense attorney interrupted the witness and said that to spare the feelings of the family and friends in the courtroom, the defense would stipulate that someone was killed in the crash.

Finally, one of the witnesses, the driver of a vehicle that was northbound in the inside lane on Himes, testified that right after he stopped when the traffic light turned red, he witnessed the Nissan SUV pass him in the outside lane and run the red light. Then he pointed to the defendant and identified her as the driver. He even showed the judge and defense attorney a photo on his cell phone of the defendant before she got out of her SUV after the crash.

Unfortunately, since the TPD officer couldn't be there, as well as two witnesses that the defense wanted to call, the judge said she'd have to issue a continuance. What followed was the most dramatic and emotional part of the hearing.

Diane's mother stood up, trying to choke back her sobs, and told the judge that she couldn't let the defendant get away with killing her daughter. As two female bailiffs started to softly tell her to sit down, Judge Ober gently told her that she had also lost a relative in a car crash and could understand how she felt. She added that she'd listen to what Diane's mother had to say either today or at the next hearing. The judge and the defense attorney then checked their available dates and came up with June 7th or 14th. Then the judge asked Diane's family which date they would prefer. They chose the 14th.

Then the judge repeated that she'd listen to Diane's mother today or at the next hearing. As Diane's mother walked up to the small podium where the witnesses stood to testify, the defense attorney quietly objected. He said victim's families had the right to speak before a defendant is sentenced, but his client hadn't even been found guilty yet. The judge waved him off and said listening to Diane's mother wouldn't prejudice her against his client. Then, with her voice broken by sobs, Diane's mother started to tell Judge Ober what a wonderful person Diane was, that she wasn't doing anything wrong when the defendant ran the red light and killed her, and that the judge couldn't let the defendant get away with it.

The judge listened closely, then repeated softly that she knew how it felt to lose a family member in a car accident. Then she said Diane's family needed to understand that the defendant was only charged with a traffic violation -- a civil offense, not a criminal one -- and even if she found the defendant guilty, the toughest sentence she could impose under the law would be a fine, court costs, and a suspended license.

Diane's mother said angrily that it wasn't right that someone could run a red light and kill a person and get off so lightly. The judge said she was sorry, but that's the law, and she has to follow it in imposing sentences, adding if people wanted to change the law, they'd have to take it up with the state legislature.

Before anyone gets angry at Judge Ober, I have to say she was very kind, patient, and sympathetic toward Diane's mother and family. And the judge wasn't the person who decided what charges to file against the defendant.

After the hearing, I asked the Times reporter if she knew what the exact charges were, and she replied, "Running a red light with death."

"And that's only a civil offense?" I asked in surprise.

She nodded her head and said, "The judge would be able to suspend her license for only a year." I shook my head in amazement.

After that, I spoke a bit with Diane's family. Her sister asked me if I'd heard about tomorrow's Ride of Silence to remember Diane and the other cyclists who've been killed. I smiled sadly, nodded my head, and said, "I organized it."

Well, sorry for the long email, folks, but I thought you might want to know what happened in a case where a fellow cyclist was killed. It was hard seeing and hearing her family's grief. I'd say we need to start lobbying the legislature hard to toughen the law for cases like this, but with its current composition, I doubt it would do any good.

Take care and ride safely,