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Sue Carlton

Roll in the downtown Tampa bike-sharing again, but keep the orange paint

The downtown Tampa bike-sharing program 15 years ago featured bikes painted flaming orange. The bikes were gone in a week.

Times (1997)

The downtown Tampa bike-sharing program 15 years ago featured bikes painted flaming orange. The bikes were gone in a week.

It may go down in Tampa history as the most well-meant, hilariously embarrassing and utterly failed city program ever.

Or at least the town's most colorfully bad idea.

"Orangecycles," they were called, "the bikes with appeal."

A "peel." Get it?

Fifteen years ago, some optimistic city boosters decided to get a bunch of unclaimed bikes from the police department, paint them flaming orange and strategically station them around downtown, Ybor City and Hyde Park.

Easily spotted because they were, well, flaming orange, the bikes were available for anyone to use for a quick trip around downtown — all yours, just leave it for the next guy who's late for a meeting or headed to lunch.

No question those booster hearts were pure and their intentions admirable. Theirs would be a city on the move! Orangecycles would be urban hip! They would environmentally friendly! They would be …

Gone in a week.

Stolen, pawned, ridden off to Ruskin, they were most definitely gone. One sheepish booster made a joke about achieving "100 percent utilization." Turned out theirs was not a sharing kind of town.

Fast forward and now Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to take a shot at bike-sharing again. By next year, even. But this time it will mean 300 all-weather bikes, tracking systems and credit cards to keep it honest. You pay a membership fee or rent them with a credit card, and trips of a half hour or less would likely be free.

This would put bikes on the road, a good thing, and also make the citizenry less inclined to acquire them on a permanent basis.

More good news: A bike-sharing program run by a vendor wouldn't cost city money. They do it in big cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., so why not here?

Quick Tampa reality check.

In its yearning for a thriving downtown, Tampa sometimes trips over itself. (As in, Orangecycles.) This is a city that recently canceled a busy Friday street market for reasons still unclear. It's a city about to embark on a new Sunday downtown market — coming this very Sunday! — good news. Except market vendors won't sell lunch you can grab on the go, as is customary at many a street fair, again for reasons unclear.

But the big hurdle here when it comes to bike-sharing has to be Tampa's regular ranking on lists of places most deadly for people who dare to try to walk or pedal somewhere. Yes, bike lanes have been added and yes, that share-the-road message is slowly getting out. But bike friendly? Not yet.

The not-quite-finished Riverwalk — hey, look, downtown Tampa does have a waterfront! — says a lot about what the city's accomplished and still needs to. The winding path of concrete along the Hillsborough River for walking, biking and running is great. But try to proceed past its end to, say, Ybor City, and motorists will make it clear that you do not belong. They may even try to mow you down to prove the point.

All that said, this latest bike-sharing idea sounds an awful lot like a city thinking like a city. It could work.

But I had to ask the mayor, for nostalgia's sake: Couldn't they be orange?

"Not a chance," he said. "Been there, done that," the idea apparently being to move forward, not back.

Roll in the downtown Tampa bike-sharing again, but keep the orange paint 10/12/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 2:13pm]
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