Thursday, January 22, 2009

SWFBUD Urges Tampa To Improve Conditions For Bicyclists

This morning I addressed the Tampa City Council on behalf of SWFBUD to urge them to light a fire under city staff and get more bicycle lanes striped on streets in Tampa. The bike lanes on Nebrasha, Tampa Street and Jackson in downtown are a nice start. But we have so much to improve here in Tampa.

I ran out of time to read my complete SWFBUD public statement, which I posted below. So fellow Seminole Heights resident Randy Baron, a bicyclist, volunteered to read the balance of my statement. It concluded that if the city of St. Petersburg can include a bike lane whenever they fix a road, then the city of Tampa can do likewise.

Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena is a big backer of bicycling in Tampa and she said there will be a city bicycle transportation meeting on Feb. 26 at 1:30 PM at city hall. They will discuss bike lanes on Platt, Cleveland and Himes.

I urge to circle that day on your calendar and attend. City public works staff will be there and they need to know how badly Tampa needs space for bicyclists on local streets.

While I at the city council meeting, TBARTA's executive director and old DOT guy, Bob Clifford was on hand to update the council on the TBARTA's doings. Councilwoman Saul-Sena advised Clifford to please show photos of bicyclists using transit stations or taking their bikes on buses, trains and light rail.

I also have asked TBARTA for months to please show photos of bicyclists as part of their public relations brochures etc.

I will be attending TBARTA's 9:30 AM Friday meeting at USF to hammer that point and to advise TBARTA to include bicycling as a vital link in a regional transit system. Here is Clifford addressing the Tampa City Council.

After I addressed the city council, a man friom Temple Terrace came up to me and said that Busch Boulevard is getting repaired and that he hopes it becomes safer for bicyclists. He mentioned the sidewalk work was not going well because poles were being installed in the middle of the sidewalk, which is not good for folks in a wheelchair or pedestrians.

For those interested, here is the SWFBUD statement I gave to the city council today:

My name is Alan Snel and I'm the director of South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers -- or SWFBUD, which rhymes with Swiftmud. SWFBUD is a coalition of retail bicycle stores and bicycle supporters who want to see bicycling garner more resources in Tampa and the surrounding communities in the Tampa Bay market. Our seven stores and one lawyer are in Tampa and across the Tampa Bay area and SWFBUD stores generate more than $10 million in annual revenue and represent thousands of bicyclists.

I helped create SWFBUD because more people want to ride a bicycle in the Tampa area for all types of reasons -- to get to work, to get to school, for exercise, and to visit friends and family. People in Tampa want to bike. I co-founded the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club last year. I know for a fact people want to bike in this town. Folks came to my front porch in Seminole Heights one night last winter to help create a club that caters to people who want to safely bike our streets. Even with a depressed economy, new bicycle shops are opening in Tampa. Trek, a company that manufactures bicycles, opened a Trek specialty store in south Tampa. Flying Fish Bikes in south Tampa opened another store in Westchase. And a SWFBUD member store in new Tampa moved to a bigger space just down the road.

SWFBUD is encouraging our elected officials in Tampa to improve road conditions for bicyclists because the city would become a better place to live and work. But the word on the street that I get time and time again is that too many people are afraid to bike on Tampa’s streets. It is true. I have lived in cities across the country. I have bicycled across the country twice by myself. I have biked in every metropolitan area in this country except Dallas, Houston and Phoenix. I am in the unique ability to put Tampa into a broader context when it comes to bicycling and it is true. Our streets are dangerous for bicyclists.

Our streets are too narrow. They are in poor condition. We do not have sides on the road to bike. And area drivers feel like they own the road. In short, our city is a dangerous place to bike.

So I'm here to ask your help in changing that,starting with the attitudes of your city staff. I personally met and talked with three different public works workers about improving streets in Tampa for bicyclists. I also spoke with the city’s public works director. One staffer wasn't too keen on bicyclists on the street in the first place because she told me it's legal to bike on sidewalks. For the record, I don't bike on sidewalks. Sidewalks are for walking, like the word implies. Accidents occur for bicyclists on sidewalks when cars collide with them at side streets and driveways – and besides, it’s not safe for pedestrians either. A second employee wanted to engage in an argument with me about his assertion that bicyclists run red lights. And a third employee asked me about the best places to buy bicycle tires – completely off the topic of making roads safer for bicyclists. I did eventually meet Irvin Lee, the public works director who said the city doesn't oppose bicycling. It just doesn't have the resources to improve roads for bicycling.

I'm asking for you to take steps to change all that. You see, it's not just about bicycling. It's about quality of life. I have lived in Tampa for a number o years and I'm about to tell you something you probably already know. The city of St. Petersburg has become a more livable city while Tampa remains a dangerous place to be a pedestrian and bicyclist. As a result, Tampa is becoming a less attractive place to live.

On any Saturday morning St. Petersburg's downtown is alive and vibrant. That's because people are walking and biking there. Most weekends here, downtown Tampa is quiet and there's little activity with exception of major events such as a Gasparilla parade.

I realize things move slowly in government. I worked as a newspaper reporter and I covered city hall in Denver and Seattle and also government in metropolitan New York City and South Florida. But I'm asking you to take specific steps to improve living and bicycling here in Tampa: Require bike lanes on all roads in Tampa when they're fixed, repaved or improved; Hire new staff members who's job responsibility is to make sure that streets in Tampa have bike lanes. The city of St. Petersburg has three employees dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle issues. The city of Tampa has zero.

You're competing with other cities across the country for businesses. Businesses don' relocate to Tampa because we host a Super Bowl once every 10 years. They will come for an educated workforce and if you have a quality of life such as parks, safe roads and good schools. If you want to give Tampa a competitive edge, make the city a safe place to get around in ways besides driving a car. People in Tampa want to bike..

I encourage you to join the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club and come with us on our local neighborhood and downtown Tampa rides. We have a ride every Saturday morning except the last Saturday of every month.

I hope to see you on a ride and thank you for your time.

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