A penny tax for rail could mean a smoother ride for cyclists

There's something you might not know about that upcoming penny tax Hillsborough voters will consider in November, the one for rail, better buses and improved roads, the one Pinellas is watching closely before deciding whether to take that train themselves.

It's about bicycles.

We are not kind to bikes here. Cars rule our roads. And lately the news has been particularly brutal.

Seven cyclists dead in a span of weeks, killed by someone who ran a red light, killed in a hit-and-run, killed when a cyclist rode into traffic without a helmet.

Among the seven: A retired two-star admiral. A well-liked Pasco County math teacher. A man who washed dishes at the local Crab Shack.

Blame our roads for being badly designed for sharing. Blame the cars-rule mentality we can't seem to break. Sometimes, blame mistakes by cyclists, though no matter whose fault the accident, the one on the bike always loses.

And hope the news of seven dead means change.

The other day I was in my car driving down Euclid Avenue, a street that says a lot about trying to ride a bike around here.

It's a nice enough road that crosses the South Tampa peninsula, from the winding ribbon of waterfront Bayshore Boulevard, through neighborhoods and past businesses, across treacherous Dale Mabry Highway and on to West Shore Boulevard.

Naturally, this makes Euclid a popular thoroughfare for cars. And bikes.

Cyclists were hoping for a designated bike lane on Euclid, and it looked like it could happen, a victory in a city with not nearly enough of them.

But Euclid residents have long parked on the street in front of their homes in this older neighborhood, and the mayor intervened on their behalf.

No lane.

But when I was on Euclid that day — look — large white bicycle icons, printed on the asphalt down the middle of the street with arrows above them.

It took a second, and then, okay, got it: Watch for bikes.

"Sharrows," cycling advocate Alan Snel tells me later, common in other cities and not so much here, not yet, but a way to remind us we're supposed to share the road.

So, about that penny for rail.

In less than two weeks, Hills­borough voters will consider a referendum asking them to put up a penny more in sales tax for commuter rail, for road improvements that even the staunchest anti-rail activist can't deny we need, and for a bus service that actually gets people where they need to go when they need to get there.

This is a tough sell, asking people who feel tapped now to look to the future anyway. A Pinellas task force keeping an eye on the vote decides Nov. 15 whether to recommend a similar increase.

If it passes, 25 cents of that penny goes toward fixing, extending and improving roads from Sun City Center to Lutz. The list of projects is long (you can go to HillsboroughCounty.org and click the "transportation referendum" box on the bottom right for details). But where a road gets improved, from traffic-clogged Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to Brandon Main Street, there will be a bike lane.

It's a small detail, tucked into a big decision for voters. But for cyclists, like those sharrows, maybe it's a start.

A penny tax for rail could mean a smoother ride for cyclists 10/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 4:24pm]

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