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Bikers fight for safe passage

EDITOR'S NOTE: When originally posted, this story incorrectly stated the number of bicycle fatalities in Florida in 2006. The error has been corrected.

TAMPA — Most mornings Cindy Steinman stands in front of Britton Plaza with her bicycle and waits for the bus.

She recently started working as a clerk at the county courthouse downtown, about 5 miles from her home near Bayshore Boulevard. She takes the 7:10 a.m. express to work, then hops on her bike and breezes home about 5, bypassing cars piled up in rush-hour traffic.

Steinman, 52, is one of thousands to dust off their bicycles and use them for transportation. She gives a multitude of reasons why her pickup stays in the driveway: nice weather, exercise, high gas prices, parking fees.

But biking has its drawbacks, too. The bike lanes stop once she gets downtown, forcing her to ride on the sidewalk for fear of getting hit ­— a move some bikers call dangerous.

More and more, biking advocates are fighting to make routes like Steinman's safer, whether it be with bike lanes or more trails — whatever it takes to make room for cyclists on Tampa's streets.

Progress being made

For Gena Torres, coordinator of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, it's a daunting task to keep riders safe and educated in a city that isn't known for being bike-friendly.

It's not the experienced cyclists that worry her most. Many on the road ride out of necessity. "These are people between 20 and 40 who have either lost their license or don't have cars for lots of different reasons, and they need headlights and tail lights," she said. "We need more bike lanes."

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 9,000 people in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties regularly rode their bikes to work in 2006, up from about 6,000 in 2000. Also in 2006, Florida ranked No. 2 in the nation in bicycle fatalities with 132, according to a study done by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Torres has spent 14 years on the biking committee, which is part of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hillsborough's transportation planning agency. In the past six years, the agency has spearheaded projects including the bike trail on Bayshore and a bike lane on Jackson Street.

Drafting an $11-million to $13-million proposal to connect the Upper Tampa Bay Trail in Westchase to the Suncoast Trail, which stretches from Pasco to Citrus counties, is now its biggest priority.

The benefit of recruiting more cyclists counters cost concerns, Torres said. "Trails are breeding grounds for commuters."

The Nebraska Avenue construction project is one victory.

During the 2007 mayoral campaign, the MPO presented the Florida Department of Transportation with a $16-million proposal to resurface a 3-mile stretch on Nebraska Avenue between Kennedy Boulevard and Hillsborough Avenue.

The design was approved, and construction is under way to transform the four-lane road into three lanes with a dual left turn lane and north and south bike lanes. Nebraska is ideal for bike lanes, Torres said.

"The (traffic) volumes were low, it was being resurfaced; it's in a neighborhood. I just hope it works," she said.

The MPO eventually wants to extend the South Tampa Greenway near Gandy Boulevard to the Friendship Trail Bridge, Picnic Island, MacDill Air Force Base and Bayshore Boulevard. The hope is that the trail would span 18 miles one day.

In addition, Mayor Pam Iorio supports the agency's proposal to create a bike lane on Platt Street by painting a stripe down one side, Torres said. The potential cost and other details have not been determined.

Shop owners unite

Julie Bond and Alan Snel, who lead two instrumental bike advocacy groups, support Torres' efforts.

Bond is the executive director at the public-private partnership New North Transportation Alliance, which hosts forums on transportation for businesses, local governments and residents.

She moved to Tampa 2 1/2 years ago from Salt Lake City, which is known for its bike culture. Locally, she encourages people to use alternative transportation and practices what she preaches by biking from her Temple Terrace home to her job at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Seven area bike shop owners have banded together under Snel's direction, calling themselves the South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers.

Snel, who has lived in Tampa for five years, said he has cycled across the country twice and bikes an average of 12,000 miles a year. He also started the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club for recreational cycling trips around town.

"I was stunned at how many dangerous conditions there were when I moved here," said Snel, who has written freelance articles for the St. Petersburg Times.

Some of his horrors are bike lanes that suddenly disappear and drivers who don't seem to know the 3-foot buffer law.

Since 2006, Florida has required drivers to stay at least 3 feet from bicyclists on the road. Failing to do so is a moving violation that could carry a $60 fine, court costs and three points on the driver's license.

Snel's advocacy group writes letters to local governments, telling them how important bike lanes and bike-friendly roads are, Snel said.

Randy Myhre, who owns Oliver's Cycle Sports in New Tampa, is part of the group.

"If we can get a majority of local shops together and talk to local politicians, what we say will carry a lot more weight," he said.

Mind-set must change

If biking is going to become a serious transportation alternative, Myhre thinks the mind-set of drivers must change.

"We've got roads everywhere, and if people didn't feel like they were being threatened by drivers, they might try and use them," he said.

Steinman, the clerk at the courthouse, knows the challenges she faces.

"It's hit or miss trying to find the best and least dangerous way," she said. "It would be nice to have some way to travel that wouldn't risk your life."

Until then, she says she'll just keep her eyes open and try to enjoy the ride.

Times researchers Angie Holan and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Eric Smithers can be reached at or (813) 226-3339.

>>Fast Facts

Map for bikers

View an up-to-date map of Hillsborough County that shows trails, which roads have bicycle lanes and others that pose dangers for bikers at Check local bike shops in May to obtain the same map in printed form for free.

Bikers fight for safe passage 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 3:57pm]
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