Saturday, February 28, 2009

Trying To Improve Bicycling in Tampa

On Thursday afternoon I went on behalf of SWFBUD to the hallowed halls of the city council meeting room and chatted with two Tampa City Council members and two city staffers about a topic you don't hear much in city government -- bicycling on the streets of Tampa.

I waited a long time for this meeting and Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena arranged the session. Councilwoman Mary Mulhern was also there.

Tampa is like no other major city I have lived in -- for years and years its city government appeared to follow a philosophy of funnelling bicyclists off paved streets and onto off-road trails and sidewalks. By the lack of bike lanes it's apparent city government is not keen on bicycling in city streets as a way to get around.

When most big cities see the logic of swapping cars for bicyclists to lighten the commuter congestion load, Tampa has had a history of trying to keep bicyles off the road. When I arrived here five years ago I did not see a bike lane in the city.

Times have changed -- a little. The state DOT installed bike lanes on Nebraska and Tampa Streets. And the city of Tampa striped what might be its longest bike lane in the city when it repaved Manhattan Avenue a year or two ago.

So against this backdrop I joined Seminole Heights bicyclists Chip Thomas and Ken Surrock along with Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and Gena Torres, the Hillsborough County MPO bicycle/ped coordinator with a session with Steve Daignault, an engineer by trade and the administrator of the city's Public Works and Utilities Services and Karla Price, who handles trails for the city.

Irvin Lee, director of the city's public works department, watched the meeting on in-house city TV from his office.

I asked the city to establish a bicycle transportation program complete with a bicycle coordinator and a policy of striping bike lanes when road work is done. In fact, we all asked Daignault for the city to establish a bicycle point person to make sure bicyclists' interests were included when road work as done. I also asked that bike lanes be striped on wide one-way streets such as Platt and Cleveland and to install Share the Road signs when the few bike lanes do end.

I thought Karen Kress made one of the most salient points when she asked why if other cities can figure out how to integrate bike lanes into a transportation network why can't Tampa do likewise?

Ken Sturrock pointed out that he takes his bicycle and dollars to St. Petersburg because that city welcomes bicyclists with a legitimate bicycle infrastructure system.

Steve Daignault heard us out, though he grew frustrated at times.

Irvin Lee, the city public works chief, was polite to return my call after the meeting and pledged his commitment to do all he could to get more bike lanes in the city, though he cautioned that he's facing staff and budget cuts. I have talked with Irvin Lee in the past and I believe he's sincere about trying to improve bicycling conditions in Tampa. he pointed out, for example, that the city will have bike lanes as part of the 40th Street improvement project.

He admitted the city is behind and has a way to catch up when it comes to bicycling. ut at least he acknowledged the problem and appeared willing to do something about. Let's just hope he instructs his staff to do likewise.

I can say that bicycling is on the radar of city government -- which is a step in the right direction. It will take time to change the attitude of Tampa city government. Eventually, they will see what we see -- more bike shops are opening because more people want to ride bicycles. We have a new Tampa Bicycle Co-op, a Tampa BayCycle comuting program and a new bike club -- Seminole Heights Bicycle Club. It's all part of a movement and it will happen -- it just takes time to change old ways.

March is a big month for bicycling in the Tampa Bay area with the Tampa BayCycle program off and biking.

Sunday, March 1, 8 AM-2PM: Cyclovia in Clearwater. Two miles of downtown Cleveland Street is closed to cars and people are encouraged to bike, walk or do any non-vehicular activity they want.

Saturday, March 7, 10AM-4PM: Swap Meet at Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium. Come to a bicycle flea market and get great deals!!

Saturday, March 21, 11 AM+: Downtown Tampa tutns into a bicycle-race crit and enjoy a health fair!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Upper Tampa Bay Trail/Suncoast Trail Connection Update

This morning I ventured to the Hillsborough County Commission meeting to see what action the commissioners would take about extending the Upper Tampa Bay Trail seven miles and extending it to the Suncoast Trail.

Don't hold your breath, folks.

The commissioners voted to re-align a section of the UTBT connector trail to remove it from the property of Carolyn Wilson, a prominent developer who wants to build some 30 homes on the site. Informed folks know that trails enhance property values, but staff says Ms. Wilson the property owner is adament about not having any part of a trail that would be the gem of the state of Florida.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe pledged his efforts to connect the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and the Suncoast Trail. So did Commissioner Kevin Beckner. The other commissioners? Who knows. Here's Sharpe talking with county property staffer Mike Kelly at the mike.

I was there along with other bicycle advocates in Hillsborough County: MPO bike-pedestrian coordinator Gena Torres, CBE bike shop owner Brian Eckman, all-around bike guy Jim Shirk, Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership and Michael Edgerley. None of us were able to talk during the public comment because the public comment period was closed by the commission before our names were closed.

After the morning part of the meeting, I met four county staffers who are working on his project. I suggest you contact these people for information.

Susan Fernandez of the County Attorney's Office; FernandezS@HillsboroughCounty.ORG
Bill Hand, putting the properties together; HandW@HillsboroughCounty.ORG
Mike Kelly, property manager; KellyM@HillsboroughCounty.ORG
Peggy Hamric, Technical Services Manager; hamricp@HillsboroughCounty.ORG

They plan to hold a public meeting in a month or so to inform the public what's going on.

Here's the deal. The seven-mile extension connector is split into four segments. The top section goes along the Lutz Lake Fern Road and a section just below that goes through swiftmud land. That's about half of the connector trail and those sections are in good shape. The county commissioners need to allocate money to make those segments happen, but they stiffed the project when they approved ZERO dollars from the $40 million in community investment tax money.

The third and fourth sections are more dicey. Section A ran through Carolyn Wilson's land and she told the county she doesn't want no trail. So Sharpe wants to re-route the trail just north of where the Upper Tampa Bay Trail currently ends to the west side of Gunn Highway through the Lake Rogers Park area, which is owned by teh city of St. Petersburg. The trail would then have to veer back east across Gunn Highway and head up to Van Dyle Road and the swiftmud land.

This is not going to be easy. We need to lean on the county commissioners to fund the first and second sections, which are ready to go, and lean on staff to come up with a workable re-alignment for the rest of the connection.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

DOT Responds to SWFBUD Request for Gandy Bridge Upgrades

On behalf of SWFBUD, I contacted Donald Skelton, district manager for the Tampa Bay area DOT area, about making the current Gandy Bridge more hospitable to bicyclists by putting a barrier along the shoulder and creating bicycle and pedestrian space.

I received his response today. In summary, the DOT will not install any bicycle facilities but at least we get Share the Road signs put of the deal. Here is Skelton's response:

The department has evaluated the feasibility of providing for a physical barrier between the traffic lanes and the shoulder of the Gandy Bridge.

Our findings indicate the required six foot, one-way or twelve foot, two-way, clear width required for multi-use paths across the Gandy Bridge cannot be provided for two significant reasons.

First, the bridge structures were not designed to accommodate the additional loading from the weight of the barrier walls required.

Second, the addition of a separated multi-use path would eliminate the required pavement shoulders across the bridge. These pavement shoulders provide for a critical safety feature for vehicles to use for emergency purposes.

In accordance with Section 335.065, Florida Statutes, the department has also evaluated designating the bridge shoulder as a bicycle and pedestrian way by means of pavement markings without a physical barrier.

At present, the department cannot designate the bridge shoulders for bicycles and pedestrians due to a 5 year crash history from 2002-2007 indicating a significant number of crashes involving the barrier walls and also due to the lack of required pedestrian and bicycle railings on top of the barrier walls.

Please note that S.R. 600 (Gandy Boulevard) is not a limited access facility and the department’s policy is not to restrict bicyclists or pedestrians from using the shoulder across the Gandy Bridge.

In consideration of the above, the department will add street signs along the roadway approaches in advance of the bridge ends to indicate that motorists must share the shoulder.

Please expect these signs to be installed within four weeks from this date.

The department appreciates the time you have taken on behalf of thousands of bicyclists in the Tampa Bay area to express interest of a multi-use path across the Gandy Bridge.

Thank you for your interest and concern for the bicyclists in the Tampa Bay area. If there is any additional information we can provide you regarding the Gandy Bridge, please contact Mr. Ronald Chin, P.E., District Design Engineer at or at 813/975-6030.


Donald J. Skelton, P.E.
District Seven Secretary

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SWFBUD Lobbies For Bicycle Access on Top Deck Of Selmon Expressway

The St. Petersburg Times ran a terrific story today about SWFBUD's efforts to get the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority to open the upper deck of the Selmon Expressway for bicyclists on Sundays. Nice job by Times reporter Mark Holan.
Bicyclists seek occasional use of Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway
By Mark Holan, Times Correspondent
In Print: Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TAMPA — The elevated lanes of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway could become an occasional bicycle and pedestrian trail in the future, perhaps on Sunday mornings.

The Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority expects to discuss at its Feb. 23 board meeting whether to allow such activity on the 10-mile road between Brandon and downtown Tampa.

The idea was prompted a few weeks ago by bike enthusiast Alan Snel, director of South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, a coalition of eight stores in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

"This is an idea that would be welcome for everyone," Snel said Monday. "Bicyclists would welcome it, and it would be good public relations for the Expressway Authority."

He said Sunday access to the elevated span, which is closed on Sundays, would help ease the loss of the Friendship Trail Bridge. The 2.6-mile hiking and biking trail between Hillsborough and Pinellas closed late last year due to structural problems.

Unlike the trail, however, the expressway couldn't offer fishing.

Expressway Authority spokeswoman Sue Chrzan said the agency's staff hasn't reached a conclusion about opening the roadway.

"There's a lot more to it than, 'Go ahead, go up there,' " she said.

City Council Chairman Tom Scott, a member of the Expressway Authority board, said he wants to know the financial impact and legal liability of such a move.

"It could be a good opportunity," Scott said. "I think it will help out, at least on this side of the bay."

Snel said he biked on the elevated span for a charity event before it opened in July 2006.

"It is very safe," he said. "You get beautiful views of the entire area."

Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, also supports the idea.

"It would be another safe opportunity for cyclists," she said.

Snel said he would love to see the span open from 7 to 10 a.m. Sundays, at least once a month, but said he's willing to take what the Expressway Authority allows.

"We don't want to be overdemanding," he said.