Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

Check your bike at the door

Bike valets have become fixtures at events in the area's downtown districts.

Pedal to a concert or festival and pass your bike to a valet who will place it in a secured fenced-in area. When you are ready to leave, the bike is retrieved.

"It's like a coat check for bikes," said Christine Acosta, founder of Tampa Bike Valet, the Tampa Bay area's largest such service.

It's grown a bit too fast for Acosta, turning into a venture that needs full time attention. She prefers to focus the bulk of her time on bike safety advocacy.

So, she has chosen to sell the company to Two Wheel Valet, which already operates as a fulltime business out of Washington, D.C., and Atlanta and that she said can best handle the demand plus expand beyond just events, something Acosta believes this city needs.

"Events are important," Two Wheel owner Jonathan Weidman said. "But we will also try to get into fixed locations — stadiums, universities, real estate developments."

He foresees the day that residents of a downtown apartment complex or condo tower can valet their bike in the lobby, and employees valet at their office.

Biking can then better become a primary mode of transportation for downtown denizens, he said, and in the process, alleviate congestion.

"What causes traffic are these massive things called cars," Weid- man said with a laugh. "Tampa should be a year-round bicycle place because of weather."

The Vermont native founded his bike valet in Washington, D.C., in February 2014 as he worked in safety and quality control for the streetcar. By the middle of that year the valet was his full-time job.

A few months ago, he expanded into Atlanta, where besides serving events he is the official bike valet of the city's Major League Soccer team, the United.

"We see growth year after year," Weidman said. "A lot more people are using bikes to get places."

Acosta launched Tampa Bike Valet in 2014 as an auxiliary of her Pedal Power Promoters, a consulting company that helps businesses and communities become bike friendly.

It's since become a staple offered at downtown events such as the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa and Localtopia in St. Petersburg.

Bars such as Ybor City's Coppertail Brewing Co. use it when hosting special promotions.

"If our lot is full, people park on the street so we encourage people to bicycle," said Coppertail owner Kent Bailey, who also sponsors bike valets at downtown Tampa events. "When people see a safe place to store their bikes and someone looking over them, they are more likely to ride bikes there."

Acosta said Tampa Bike Valet has tripled the number of events it serves and there is room to grow.

"Most cities plan on five to 10 percent of an event to arrive on a bike," she said. "In Tampa, we're at 3.5 percent. But Tampa is on the right path."

Last year, Bicycling magazine listed Tampa as one of the best bike cities in America as it continues to add cycling lanes to its downtown roads.

"There is a lot of opportunity for expansion in Tampa," Weidman said. "It's becoming a real bike friendly place."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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