Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Enlisting HART To Help Protect Bicyclists

When a HART bus driver (pictured above) nearly hit me on Rowlett Park Drive last week and then told me to bike on the sidewalk when I confronted him about the incident, let's just say he picked the wrong bicyclist to try and blow off.

I filed a complaint with HART as soon as I got home. The incident is in HART's files as "Transaction 23317."

Yes, my putting on the record of nearly being struck by a HART bus is described as a "Transaction."

Bureaucratic euphemisms aside, I spoke today with HART's customer service director, Sylvie Castillo, who advised me that the agency looked into the matter and confirmed my report -- that the bus driver did indeed violate the 3-foot minimum buffer law and was counseled about the matter.

I was told HART drivers will be instructed to give bicyclists the required three feet of buffer space when passing a bicyclist.

I appreciated the customer service director's follow-up conversation.

But I still plan to speak at HART's Board meeting on Monday at 8:30 AM about the incident and advise the agency that as a response HART wiould be required to post signs on its bus exteriors to tell motorists to give bicyclists the requited three feet when passing and to share the road.

The bus driver's response of telling me to bike on the sidewalk is part of a bicycle culture in Tampa, where bicyclists are marginalized and intimidated by car drivers who don't understand that they are required under law to share the road, meaning passing a bicyclist by a margin of space of at least three feet.

I plan on enlisting HART Monday to help spread the word to the local Tampa-area citizenry.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SWFBUD Requests More Funding In Long-Range Transportation Plan

WMNF radio had some excellent coverage of SWFBUD participating in the
MPO 2035 Transportation Plan hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

SWFBUD's message: Bicycle and pedestrian improvements deserve more funding under the MPO long-range plan.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I Hope A Bike Rack Grows At Wal-Mart

When you're a bicycle advocate, you have to be resourceful -- like using the name and phone number of the Wal-Mart manager on your Wal-Mart receipt to contact her and request a bicycle rack in front of the store.

That's exactly what I did Wednesday afternoon when I went to Wal-Mart today on Dale Mabry near I-275 and noticed no bike rack and at least five bikes locked to trees and sign posts on islands in the parking lot.

What a mess.

So I called the Wal-Mart store manager, a woman named Debbie because her name and phone number was right on my receipt.

I asked her to please install a bike rack.

And she said she would include a new bike rack when the store is remodeled in February.

Let's hope Debbie the Wal-Mart manager was not BSing me.

Tampa-area MPO Board Takes Notice Of Bike Lanes

On Wednesday night, I represented SWFBUD at the MPO2035 Long Range Transportation Plan hearing at the county center in downtown Tampa. The Plan was approved by the MPO Board, a collection of county commissioners, city council members and transportation officials to make decisions about transportation planning.

No surprise the 2035 was approved.

But what was a major surprise was when MPO Board members Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder (interested in running for county commission), County Commissioner Rose Ferlita (interested in running for Tampa mayor) and County Commissioner Mark Sharpe (you know he's going to run for something) talked about a bike lane.

I know, who knew three politicos were so interested in a bike lane?

But the bike lane issue surfaced at the hearing when local South County activist Mariella Smith did a terrific job explaining how the proposed bike lanes under the 2035 Plan were centered around the Tampa area and that bike lanes were lacking on Shell Point Road and 19th Avenue in south county.

Dingdfelder, Ferlita and Sharpe all voiced concerns about making sure the bike lane would be striped under the plan.

For the record, I told the MPO Board that the tiny slice of the proposed money pie for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure was too small compared to the money spent on light rail and cars under the proposed plan. The MPO spent a lot of time working on this 2035 Plan, and MPO staffers Beth Alden and Gena Torres who are Seminole Heights residents do support bicycling and pedestrian improvements.

But if the Tampa Bay area is going to move up from being near the bottom of the barrel in the U.S. in terms of bicycle and ped safety, our region needs a Marshall Plan-like overhaul of our bicycle and ped infrastructure and needs the city of Tampa Transportation Dept. to do more than build more than bike lanes on TWO roads (Manhattan Avenue and 40th Street) in the six years that I have lived in Tampa.

* * *

Mariella Smith summarized the meeting and sent out a notice about the MPO meeting:

Although we didn't get our bikeways added to the 2035 Transportation Plan's list of funded projects, we did make progress at tonight's final hearing of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board.

Thanks to all of you who sent in comments and e-mails, some of our elected officials got the message loud and clear tonight -- that South County citizens want to see our community connected with greenways, trails and bikeways. The issue is now on the radar of our transportation planners and decision-makers, and they are promising to find some other way of funding these amenities, which we have spent years planning for.

I spoke about the need for SAFE bikeways down here, and showed their own map of funded bikeways on the ELMO, pointing out that there are LOTS of little purple lines indicating bikeways being funded all through Tampa, downtown, north Tampa and Brandon, but NOT ONE south of Bloomingdale. (They do plan to fund the Sun Coast Trail, one of our 2 major paved trails [shown as a dashed green line], but NONE of the connecting bikeways like they plan to fund in the rest of the county [shown as solid purple lines]. Our connecting bikeways are on their "needs" list, but not on their list of "funded projects.")

Joe Smith spent a good part of his allotted 3 minutes speaking in support of Greenways & Bikeways for South County, too, highlighting our area's history of planning for these corridors as part of our goal of promoting ecotourism. Alan Snel (cycling advocate supreme) spoke in support of more funding for bikeways throughout the county. Thank you, Joe & Alan!

John Dingfelder really went to bat for us! (He's a member of the MPO Board, a Tampa City Councilman, and a candidate for County Commission.) He reiterated the point I made that MANY bikeways were being funded everywhere else, but NONE in South County, and he asked the board to look again at that map of funded bikeways. When county staff said they couldn't fund any bikeways in South County because so many other roads elsewhere were higher on the priority list, given their criteria of population & accidents etc., Dingfelder argued that the criteria needs to include some consideration of equity. He said as it stands, they're treating all of south county like we don't ride bikes.

John Dingfelder acknowledged the years we have spent working on community plans that include these trails, and he pressed hard for staff to revisit the issue within the next 6 months, and find some other sources of funding. Transportation staff began tonight thinking of ways this could be done -- possibly in conjunction with resurfacing projects. County Commissioner Mark Sharpe also voiced support for bikeways in general, and Commissioner Rose Ferlita indicated a willingness to work on this in the future with us.

Thanks to all of us pulling together, we made our county leaders & planners aware of the need for viable, connecting greenways & bikeways; particularly in South Hillsborough; and specifically the bikeways looping east-west along Shell Point Rd. & 19th Ave. -- connecting Ruskin, Sun City Center, 4 schools, 2 libraries, 2 parks, the Suncoast Greenway and the bus/transit station. They now know that this IS important to us, and they are listening, and trying to find ways to turn these "needs" into funded projects.

Thanks for all your help!
Mariella Smith

Potential Funding Source To Make Tampa's Streets Safer For Bicyclists?

A busy few days on the SWFBUD front. Today I sent a letter to the city of Tampa about a potential funding source to make the city's streets safer for bicyclists:

I contacted the city of Tampa about a potential funding source to improve bicycle safety in the strests of Tampa. I hope the city's Transportation staffers look into this. This letter was sent today:

Dear Mayor Iorio, Steve Daignault, Irv Lee, John Marsh, Tony Rodriguez, Shannon Edge and the city of Tampa Transportation Division,

A common response I receive from the city of Tampa government about improving bicycle infrastructure is that the city has no money to improve city roads and streets for bicyclist safety.

In response to that, I am sending you what I hope is a potential funding source. It does require someone from the city government to apply for the money and I hope the city would be willing to explore that option.

As you know, Tampa has a national and local reputation for being a city that's unsafe for bicyclists and I hope this potential funding source could provide money to stripe bike lanes and widen roads so that bicyclists can safely pedal the streets of Tampa. I hope we can work together to change Tampa's reputation as a place that's not hospitable to bicyclists.

Here is the pdf:

I appreciate your time and help.

Alan Snel
Director of SWFBUD -- South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, nine Tampa area bicycle stores and two lawyers committed to bicycle advocacy
Home of the award-winning Bicycle Bash, Tampa Bay's Bicycle Festival

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bicycle Bash Video

This will be your most enjoyable two minutes of the day. Check out this terrific Bicycle Bash video.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SWFBUD Talks With Police About Bicycle Laws With Help From The Florida Bicycle Association

This morning, SWFBUD met with George Martin, Florida Bicycle Asociations's bicycle laws director, and three members of the Tampa Police Department to discuss bicyclists' rights to be in the traffic lane under certain circumstances and to see if we can start a public campaign to better educate drivers and bicyclists about sharing the road together.

Tampa's new police chief, Jane Castor, a veteran bicyclist, made a cameo during the meeting to say hi and check in, mentioning Tampa's "unfriendly streets" for bicyclists. The new chief responded to my email promptly about this issue two weeks ago.

SWFBUD's goal was to offer George's services to help educate Tampa police about bicycle laws and to kick-start a public awareness camapaign about bicyclists and drivers sharing the narrow roads and streets in the Tampa area.

This meeting stemmed from a case connected to bicyclist Bradley Marcel, who was cited by a Tampa officer for not being close to the right edge of a road in Tampa even though he had the right to be in the lane because the traffic lane was too narrow and sub-standard in width.

That's right folks -- bicyclists are supposed to be as close to the right side of the road as practable, but there are circumstances under the law that permit cyclists to take the lane such as to avoid debris, preparing to make a left turn and when a lane is too narrow.

My goal was not to argue Bradley's case before the trio of Tampa police members but to use it as a learning experience and a point of departure to educate officers about a bicyclist's right to be in the lane.

Enter George Martin, a long-time bicyclist and Florida Bicycle Association's bicycle laws director who advises police around Florida about bike laws. George offered his services to the Tampa police and he was well-received.

I want to thank John Bennett, Assistant Chief of Police for Operations; Ed Croissant, who teaches Tampa police officers about cycling; and Sgt. Carl Giguere, who spent an hour listening to our concerns and appeared willing to accept George's offer of providing education modules to improve the understanding of bicycle laws.

George is working on launching a bicycle laws training program for police and hopes to have a two-hour web-based program ready by the end of next year and the education modules ready to go in a few months. George's big goal is to take his bike education program for police national down the road.

Asst. Chief Bennett agreed to refresh a legal bulletin for police officers about a bicyclist's right to be in the lane under certain circumstances; add the Web site to the Tampa police Web site; add a PDF showing bike routes in Tampa; target schools to educate kids about bicycling and look into getting training from the education modules. He also said police would consider using electronic message boards to advise drivers about sharing roads with bicyclists.

Here, George talks with Asst. Chief Bennett, Croissant, and Sgt. Giguere.

After discussing bicycle laws with the Tampa Police, George and I took a short ride to SWFBUD member store Streetfit 360 on Gandy Avenue to talk bicycling issues with Streetfit 360 owners Jana and Andy Clark.

Then at lunchtime, I enjoyed listening to George discuss the topic of bicycle laws with an ad-hoc group of interested downtown Tampa bicyclists at a brown-bag lunch at the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

George talks about bicycle laws with the downtown Tampa bicycle committee today. That's Jim Shirk listening to George.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2009 -- An Incredible Year For SWFBUD; The Year In Review

In 2009, SWFBUD (South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers) came of age, forging political alliances in the Tampa Bay area and winning national awards for its bicycle advocacy work in the Tampa Bay market.

SWFBUD was already known as the organizer of the popular and award-winning Bicycle Bash by the Bay -- Tampa Bay's annual bicycle festival. In fact, SWFBUD won an Event of the Year Award from the Florida Bicycle Association in 2007 for the Bicycle Bash.

But in 2009, SWFBUD became an advocacy force as SWFBUD Director Alan Snel lobbied local government boards and commissions to improve infrastructure for bicyclists; organized a bike ride to a Hillsborough County Commission budget hearing to help keep county parks open seven days a week and created key political alliances with local elected officials such as Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena to increase the profile of cycling in the Tampa Bay area.

SWFBUD's efforts paid off and drew national attention and recognition.

In April, SWFBUD won the prestigious Retailer Advocacy Award from the Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN) magazine, the trade publication that covers the bicycle industry in the U.S. Here, Alan Snel receives the BRAINy award from Tim Blumenthal of Bikes Belong and BRAIN Editor Megan Tompkins.

And then this summer, the Trek Bicycle Corp. gave its Advocacy Leadership Award to SWFBUD for working with Hillsborough County officials to keep the parks open seven days a week after the proposed budget called for closing the parks two days a week. Trek President John Burke poses with members of the Trek stores in SWFBUD.

Here are some of the SWFBUD store owners with mountain bike building legend Gary Fisher after SWFBUD won the award.

* * *

SWFBUD became political and Alan Snel was showing up at Tampa City Council meetings and Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commission meetings and TBARTA meetings and just about any public forum to sound the call for improved and better infrastructure for bicyclists in the Tampa Bay area.

Alan appeared before the TBARTA board to advise them to make sure that bicycles are part of a future light rail plan. Here is Alan with former TBARTA Board Chairman Shelton Quarles.

Alan also appeared before the Hillsborough County Commission numerous times to implore the commission to connect the Upper Tampa Bay Trail with the Suncoast Trail and to keep the county's parks open seven days a week.

SWFBUD organized a bike ride to a Hillsborough County Commission budget hearing this summer to save the county's parks.

Once at the meeting, SWFBUD spoke loud for parks for bicyclists. Here, SWFBUD member Brian Eckman, owner of Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium, spoke to the commission.

SWFBUD's appearance led to a meeting with Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who asked SWFBUD for ways to improve bicycling in the Tampa area. Snel came up with a 10-point bicycle improvement plan that ran the Tampa Tribune and that he presented to the county's MPO board.

SWFBUD arranged a meeting with Florida Bicycle Association Bike Laws Director George Martin to discuss bicycle laws with the Tampa Police after a bicyclist was cited in Tampa for biking in a road that was sub-standard in width,

SWFBUD is also lobbying the city of Tampa to improve its reputation as a hostile place for bicyclists. Alan is lobbying Mayor Pam Iorio and other officials in city government to install more bike lanes. He plans to work with City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena to enhance bike-commuting in the city.

SWFBUD appeared before local organizations to spread the word of improving bicycling. Here, Alan speaks at an Open Mic Night held by the Urban Charrette in Tampa.

* * *

Then, there is SWFBUD's signature event -- the Bicycle Bash by the Bay.

We drew more than 3,000 people of all bicycle backgrounds to North Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg to celebrate bicycling. It was a hot day, but a great setting for SWFBUD's Bicycle Bash.

The Bicycle Bash drew bicyclists of all ages.

And Alan gave out SWFBUDDy Awards to people who made Tampa Bay a bicycle-friendly area.

The SWFBUDDy winners.

SWFBUD plans to keep the pressure on in December as Alan is appearing before several local government boards and plans to work with Saul-Sena to improve bicycling in Tampa.