BAYSHORE BOULEVARD — For decades, Bayshore Boulevard has welcomed runners and walkers with sweeping views of the sea and 4.5 miles of straight-line sidewalk.
But avid bicyclists have long felt like unwelcome guests on Bayshore, which had just one bike lane going north on the scenic road. Southbound, cyclists often took to the sidewalk, preferring to dodge runners, dog walkers, baby strollers and in-line skaters rather than cars.
"Hate to say it, I ride on the sidewalk more times than not because of safety," said Frank Kane, who lives near Bayshore and owns Flying Fish Bikes.
Transportation officials hope that changes now that the city has completed the first phase of a Bayshore project that added 4-foot bike lanes on both sides of the boulevard at its northern end, from Platt Street to Rome Avenue.
"I would say it's one of the most important things we've had in a long time," said Taylor Norton, 33, a South Tampa bicyclist and bike shop employee.
When it comes to walking, running or biking, Tampa and Tampa Bay aren't the most inviting locales. Forbes.com ranked the Tampa Bay area last in 2010 among 60 metropolitan areas in commuting, which factored in bicyclists. The advocacy group Transportation for America ranked Tampa Bay the nation's second-most-dangerous area for pedestrians last summer. Six bicyclists were killed in Hillsborough County last year, down from an unusually high 11 killed in 2010.
Among them was LeRoy Collins Jr., a retired two-star admiral and Florida Department of Veterans Affairs executive director, who was struck by an SUV and killed in July 2010 not far from Bayshore.
In the Tampa Bay area overall, 19 bicyclists were killed in 2011, the same number as 2010.
After a motorcycle killed a jogger on Bayshore in 2004, then-Mayor Pam Iorio created a safety task force to improve pedestrian and bike safety along the road. A sidewalk was added to the boulevard's southbound side and a traffic signal at Howard Avenue. In 2009, the Bayshore Boulevard Enhancement Project recommended 4-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road, left-turn bays and two fewer lanes to reduce speed.
The project was split into three phases, with the first finished in late January. The nearly $1.5 million first phase, funded by state gasoline taxes, stretches 1.6 miles — or a 10-minute bike ride.
"I think it's a wonderful step in the right direction. However, a big thing that is lacking here is that it's half the battle," said bicyclist Ed Collins, LeRoy Collins' son. "The other half is drivers actually recognizing the riders and not running them over."
Cyclists like Kane and Norton said Bayshore's new bike lanes are unlikely to get much use until the entire stretch of road is completed. Many bikers prefer to cut through safer South Tampa neighborhoods, they said.
But Jim Shirk, president of the Tampa Bay Freewheelers bicycling organization, said any progress is good.
"One point six miles is 1.6 miles we didn't have," said Shirk, also chairman of the Hillsborough County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. "I'm impressed that things are happening, and I'm certainly not going to complain with what we see when it's progress."
The second phase of the Bayshore project, just south of the first, is scheduled to begin in 2014 and will cost $2 million and add bike lanes from Rome to Howard avenues. The final $3 million phase, stretching from Howard Avenue to just north of Gandy Boulevard, won't be scheduled until funding becomes available, according to city officials.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]