Make us your home page
Instagram

Instead of free bikes for RNC, Tampa will get pedal buses

TAMPA — Visitors to the Democratic and Republican conventions four years ago were treated to 1,000 bikes they could use to weave around gridlock to their downtown destinations.

Provided by the health care company Humana, the loaned bikes in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul were a smash, inspiring similar share programs in those cities and throughout the nation in a wave that is helping redefine the urban commute.

But as the popular "Freewheelin" program is set for a relaunch next month, Tampa and Charlotte won't be getting the bikes.

Instead, Humana will promote good health with a supply of 20 peculiar-looking vehicles that seat up to eight passengers who pedal while a driver steers them through an approved route of downtown streets.

"Bikes won't work as well because you don't have the infrastructure support for bikes," said Mitch Lubitz, a Humana spokesman. "Both cities in 2008 had things like bike paths and bike lanes. We don't have much of that here."

Dubbed pedal buses, the vehicles-by-committee look fun. They're certainly a talker. And they do promote exercise.

But for cycling advocates, it's yet another reminder — and a hokey one at that — of how far Tampa is falling behind other cities that are redesigning their streets for bicycles.

"It's perhaps understandable, but it's a shame that Humana has changed the program," said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Cyclists, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit. "It's a fun way for people to get exercise, but the buses are impractical. It would have been better to provide a legacy."

It's hard to overstate the influence that Humana's program has had in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver. At the time, no major American city had an extensive bike share program.

In two weeks, visitors at the conventions logged more than 7,500 rides and 41,000 miles on the borrowed bikes. The programs were so successful they flourish in both cities today. Several cities have debuted programs, and New York City will begin one next month with 10,000 free bikes.

"Bike commuting has skyrocketed in the last four years, thanks to bike share," said Steve Sander, a marketing director for Denver who credits Humana with inspiring that city's program. "It has forced the hand of the city in building more bike infrastructure."

Humana's decision is felt more in Tampa. That's because Charlotte already has a bike program. It will provide 200 bikes at 20 stations throughout an area that will be within the Democratic National Convention's perimeter. Charlotte's business district is working with another health care provider, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, in providing those bikes, which will be a permanent program unrelated to the DNC.

By contrast, Tampa is still trying to forget its previous experience with bike sharing — in 1997.

That's when city officials salvaged about 50 bikes from unclaimed police inventory and painted them a garish orange for safety reasons. The "orangecycles" were left unlocked throughout downtown for anyone to ride. But bike share quickly became bike pawn as they vanished from racks within a week. The program was quietly scrapped.

Since then, other local groups have started programs, only to struggle with more theft.

Given that experience and Tampa's reputation as one of the nation's deadliest cities for cyclists, biking advocates may be disappointed with Humana's decision, but don't necessarily fault it.

"It's a shame they won't have conventional bikes," said Alan Snel, director of a coalition of 10 bike shops in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties called Southwest Florida Bicycle United Dealers. "But I understand why."

Pedal buses do have one feature bikes don't: a roof to protect passengers from late-summer rainstorms.

Dr. Scott Latimer, a Humana executive in the Central Florida region, said the pedal buses provide as much exercise as moderate biking. About 380 calories could be burned in 30 minutes with the type of pedaling passengers can do on the buses, Latimer said. Five stations in and around downtown Tampa will be stocked with fruit stands and water. Passengers can also take health screenings that test blood pressure and body mass.

"The hope is that when people take a break, some will walk but others hopefully can pedal," said Latimer. "We're trying to get out the larger message that inactivity leads to obesity."

The Tampa City Council is scheduled to give final approval today for the use of pedal buses in Tampa. But the buses represent a lost opportunity to show Tampa residents that bikes, used on a massive scale, can be incorporated into modern life, said Snel.

"The community has to acknowledge, through public policy, that we are behind," he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or mvansickler@tampabay.com.

Instead of free bikes for RNC, Tampa will get pedal buses 07/18/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  5. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.