TAMPA — Just two years ago, Tampa was receiving brickbats for being one of the most dangerous cities to navigate on two wheels.
The Tampa Bay region had just been named one of the worst metropolitan areas for bicyclists and pedestrians. The same report by the National Complete Streets Coalition dubbed Florida the most dangerous state for riding a bike.
Now Tampa may finally be making inroads at shedding its reputation.
In recent weeks, two biking organizations have lauded the city for being a more bike-friendly community, including a first appearance in Bicycling magazine's "50 best bike cities."
And last week, a new "protected" downtown bike route on Cass Street received national recognition, with PeopleForBikes naming it among the 10 best new bike lanes in the nation.
For sure, bicycling on some Tampa roads can still be a white-knuckle ride. But city leaders say the accolades are proof that Tampa is finally accommodating those who want an alternative to the automobile.
"We have engaged in a very concerted plan to make our streets safer for bikes and to open up more of the city for bikers to enjoy," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "It's part of our larger plan to make our city a walkable, pedestrian-friendly urban environment."
The PeopleForBikes award saw Tampa rubbing shoulders with Seattle, Chicago and New York for its transformation of Cass Street.
The city spent $8.7 million reconfiguring Cass and Tyler streets into two-way roads. The two-way bike lane added to Cass cost about $587,000 and has its own traffic signals and a curb that buffers cyclists from traffic.
The stretch of road is the first phase of the city's "Green Spine" project. When complete, it will connect West Tampa's Glazer Family Jewish Community Center (the former Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory) with Cuscaden Park in V.M. Ybor by means of a two-way neon green bike lane along roadsides.
More recognition for the city came in November when Tampa earned a bronze award as a bicycle-friendly community from the League of American Bicyclists.
Tampa now has about 155 miles of bike lanes and trails, most of which were constructed since 2010, said Jean Duncan, director of Tampa's Transportation and Stormwater Services Department. The completion of the Riverwalk last year also provided a scenic route for bicyclists to traverse downtown.
Any new road resurfacing project now typically includes the addition of bike lanes, Duncan said.
Still, the report card notes that Tampa has a way to go. Only 6 percent of city roads have bike lanes, it states. The average for communities that earn a silver designation from the group is 51 percent.
"It been a transition and a challenge to catch up to where other cities are, but we're going full steam ahead," Duncan said. "To be recognized by that group says a lot about our progress."
Despite the safety improvements, accidents continue to make Tampa and Hillsborough roads a dangerous place for those on two wheels.
Four riders have died in accidents in Tampa so far this year, double the number from last year, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Transportation. The number of crashes involving bicycles in the city has fallen from 265 to 227.
Countywide, 12 bicyclists lost their lives on roads this year, up from eight last year.
Tampa resident Courtney Poe rides her neon green cruiser bicycle around downtown. She said the new bike lanes are a great addition to the city. But the 28-year-old said she would like to see more focus on educating drivers to be aware of bikers.
"They're doing better. It's just not safe," she said. "Drivers just aren't looking out for us."
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.