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Let's make our roads safe for bicycles

Bicyclists ask for a sign they belong | Nov. 26

As a local bicycle shop owner, I was distressed to read about the local Department of Transportation office's view that designated bike lanes do not improve safety for bicyclists. It's upsetting that the local DOT office appears to be in the dark ages regarding safe road conditions for bicyclists in light of the fact that Florida has the highest bicyclist fatality rate of any state in the country. Consider the lack of a bike lane at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Interstate 75 as part of the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard road-widening project.

As a result, I am asking that the DOT enforce the law that says bike lanes are necessary for new roads or road improvements and that the DOT get enlightened about the safety needs of bicyclists in the Tampa Bay region. On the same day that the Times story quoted DOT engineers' views on bike lanes, a WFLA-AM 970 radio person half-joked that it would not be his fault if he hit a bicyclist with his car's side mirror.

I want to know why the people at the local DOT office are not sensitive to the needs of bicyclists and are not requesting to meet with local engineers to see what they can do to improve safety conditions for cyclists. In fact, the bicyclist quoted in the Times story, who is one of my stores' workers, was struck by a vehicle while cycling to work in the past year.

I feel that if the DOT encourages bicycling, it should build roads that make it safe to ride a bicycle. That way the agency can help relieve traffic and the need to build more roads. By law, the bicycle is a legal vehicle, and I'm asking the DOT to properly build roads that safely accommodate bicycles.

David Luppino, owner, Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium, Oliver's Cycle Sports, Tampa

Transportation for future

After reading the article in last Sunday's paper about bike lanes, I had to just shake my head - again. As chairman of the Pinellas County Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC), I see so much work and effort going into providing bicycle facilities for the future and educating the public on cycling, especially on how a bicycle is a vehicle, exactly like an automobile, in the eyes of Florida law with the same rules and same rights to the road. We work to get trails, bicycle facilities and bike lanes.

You miss the whole point of bike lanes and facilities. Let me explain. Ten years from now, where will gas prices be? If we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, where will our air quality be? Bicycle lanes and facilities are no longer just a "community nicety." They are a necessity because they offer alternative transportation that in the near future will be required just so many people can get to work or go to the store (because they can't afford to drive cars). For many, this situation is already here. Will we be ready 10 years from now for this? Implementing bike lanes and bicycling facilities now will help achieve this goal.

Additionally, bicycling is a wonderful opportunity for individuals and families to develop active lifestyles and better health, especially as concerns grow about obesity.

The BAC works with the DOT to make sure new and resurfacing road projects include marked bicycle lanes. Although progress is being made in these areas, there is still much work to do. The marked bicycle lanes show that cyclists need to ride with traffic. They also make the roads a safer place for cyclists because with every bike lane, every sign that says "Bike Lane" or "Share the Road," public awareness and acceptance is elevated. But, more importantly, the implementation of bicycle lanes and facilities is a key to our future.

In Pinellas County, the 10-year plan is to provide trails, bicycle lanes and facilities so that virtually all areas of the county are accessible by bicycle via this system. The plan also includes connections to road and trail facilities in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Through the BAC, it is my vision, as well as that of many others, to see this plan to fruition.

Tom Ferraro, chairman, Pinellas County Bicycle Advisory Committee, Safety Harbor

Paying for those paths

I read with interest the articles and letters suggesting that bicycle paths be added on our existing roadways. I believe this to be an excellent solution to the problem of congested roads and the needs and safety of cyclists.

I propose that the county government set up a bureaucracy to collect fees and issue license tags for all bicycles. The revenue collected would be used to finance the bureaucracy and to acquire rights-of-way for these paths. The paths must then be paved and properly marked.

Time must be built into this program to allow those dealers who sell bicycles to set up a paper flow and fee collection system to allow them to provide purchasers of bicycles with a license tag when they purchase their bicycle, much the same way an auto tag is obtained when an automobile is purchased from a dealership.

I am sure the fee for these tags will be set sufficiently high so as to fully finance these paths, and will ensure auto tag fees will not be used to support paved bicycle paths to which cars would be denied access.

Harold Woodbury, Safety Harbor

Bayfront and Bayflite work hard to save lives

I am surprised by the manner in which the Tampa Bay Times recently chose to cover the lifesaving services of Bayflite, Bayfront Health System's air medical transport program. As you know, Bayflite - the largest hospital-based air ambulance fleet in the Southeast United States - has saved countless lives in its 20-year history.

The cover referred to Bayflite as "Payflite," followed by the message, "When Bayflite picks you up, you're going for a ride" - insinuating financial exploitation by our program. Not only is this disrespectful, it is inaccurate. Bayflite is only one of several providers of this service in our area, and its costs are mid-range, compared to costs for this service throughout the country.

The bigger issue behind this story is our state's crisis of the uninsured. Bayfront Health System is the largest provider of charity care in Pinellas County. Last year alone, we provided more than $10-million in uncompensated care for people in our community. It has been our honor to provide at least this much charity care every year over the past decade. It is our privilege, honor and mission to deliver quality health care for all in need, regardless of their ability to pay.

More than half of the patients flown on Bayflite annually are uninsured and unable to pay for the lifesaving services provided. There is no determination of access based on affordability. These costs are absorbed by the hospital as part of our charity care, and Bayflite as a program barely covers its costs of operation.

It should also be noted that Bayflite is a second responder in our state's trauma system. That means that our helicopters are dispatched only after an initial assessment and trauma alert is made on the ground by EMS paramedics. Once called, Bayflite responds. This statewide system is sound and results in thousands of lives saved every year.

The story discusses the cost of Bayflite from the perspective of a patient who deemed the ride unnecessary. The majority of those treated and transported by Bayflite - those whose lives were saved - would tell you they are hard-pressed to place a value on its services. How much is a saved life worth?

Unquestionably, the cost for quality health care in our country today is substantial - as is the cost to provide it. Too many people in our state and our nation are uninsured. At Bayfront, we see this firsthand every day. And I am proud to say we meet the challenge of providing top-quality services without always being compensated for them. We do what is right. We turn away no one.

As the leader of a not-for-profit hospital team, I count on the compassion of our community to be a partner in uncovering a mandatory solution to the insurance crisis; this includes the objective dignity of the St. Petersburg Times. The manner in which this story was covered is disrespectfully subjective, flippant and uncharacteristic of your paper. It will take more than "gotcha" headlines and tabloid coverage to make a difference in Tampa Bay's health-insurance crisis.

Sue G. Brody, president and chief executive officer, Bayfront Health System, St. Petersburg

Gridlock unites an unlikely pair | Nov. 26

Transportation dreams require some realism

It is important for the mayor of Tampa and a prominent Tampa business leader to call for a regional light rail system study that includes its cost-effectiveness. The 2007 Florida Legislature should create a regional transportation authority that will plan an integrated transportation system, including highways, bus rapid transit, HOV lanes, and if warranted, some form of guideway transit.

As noted in your article, the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida is highly respected nationally as a public transportation advocate and has expressed some cautions. I served on the CUTR advisory board for many years and have a great deal of respect for the judgments of the people there. They understand the ramifications of building a light rail system in a region with many destination points and the importance of dense activity centers to make rail cost-effective. Rail advocates would do well to heed the cautious approach of the researchers at CUTR.

My discussions with them have indicated, not that they are opposed to a plan that includes light rail, but most importantly that plans for light rail need to be predicated on commitments to promote much greater employment density. As long as employment centers take the form of suburban office parks, connecting residential locations to employment locations will be very difficult by any form of public transportation.

Recent articles cite the cost of building a mile of highway at $50-million a mile. Light rail in an urban environment could cost $70-million a mile or more. Consider that 70,000 to 125,000 cars a day will travel on many major highways in the Tampa Bay area going to many destinations. A light rail system in 2020 will have difficulty matching those numbers on one rail system and it will require a very expensive support system (buses and connector trams) to work, plus multiple parking garages.

Dream on, plan on, but understand the challenges ahead. The Florida Department of Transportation stated in its 2002 Strategic Intermodal Report that transportation was underfunded by over $50-billion. The deficit is greater than that.

Will our elected officials ever tell Floridians the true financial challenges confronting Floridians? Some call that negative thinking. I call it reality, and it is possible to deal with reality.

Donald R. Crane Jr., St. Petersburg

Slogans won't fix Social Security, editorial Nov. 28

A fitting retirement system

Those Democrats who labeled proposed Social Security reforms including investment accounts as "privatization" must have entered government service more than 20 years ago under the old Civil Service Retirement System and have not kept up with the current system that has been in effect since 1987. They can't possibly be that unaware!

The Federal Employees Retirement System includes contributions to:

1. Civil Service.

2. Social Security.

3. And an investment account.

Retirees will receive benefits from all three of these funds. If this system is so bad, why aren't current employees and retirees, including senators and representatives, calling for a change in their retirement system?

Otherwise, if it is good enough for them, why isn't it good enough for the population as a whole?

Wanda Stallings, St. Petersburg

Slogans won't fix Social Security

A conflict in compassion

This Times editorial presents itself as concerned for the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and the welfare of "the neediest Americans" while previous editorials supported the Senate's expensive amnesty plan for illegal aliens.

To save Social Security, the Times contemplates an increase in taxes and a reduction in benefits for working Americans, while the Congressional Budget Office estimates that amnesty will cost the federal government tens of billions per year over and above what the illegal immigrants would contribute to Social Security and Medicare if legalized.

The Times proclaims its concern for the "neediest Americans" while encouraging an amnesty bill for about 12-million illegals who, since they are primarily underskilled, undereducated labor, compete directly for jobs with the lowest paid "neediest Americans." The importation of this illegal labor has had a measurable negative impact on the wages of these lowest-paid Americans.

To recap the Times' plan: increase taxes and reduce benefits for American workers while supporting a program of amnesty that drains Social Security and Medicare and depresses job availability and wages of that group of neediest Americans that the Times pretends to champion.

Tom Waldbart, Wesley Chapel

Slogans won't fix Social Security

Trust fund is just IOUs

Why do people keep referring to the Social Security Trust Fund as if there is one? Our members of Congress have been stealing from our Social Security deposits for years to pay for their pork. The imaginary fund consists of nothing but IOUs.

If I paid my auto loan with my MasterCard, my MasterCard with my Visa, etc., and left it all for my children to pay, that would be akin to what Congress does with Social Security.

Social Security says if I wait to age 66 to retire, it will pay me $1,479 a month. Had Congress invested my deposits in the S&P 500 at its average annual return of 10 percent, I would have more than $1.1-million, be able to live off the income only, have $6,000 a month after-tax income and still leave $1.1-million to my kids.

Wake up, America! Tell your senators and representatives to stop stealing your Social Security dollars and start repaying the debt now!

Patrick W. Brown, Tampa

House flippers ensnared by their own greediness, letter | Nov. 21

Time to invest in a home

The writer of this letter stated, "The investors and speculators have essentially created this (housing) boom." Wrong. This boom was created by historically low (the lowest in 30 years) mortgage-interest rates. Far from having "ruined the American dream for millions of ordinary people," these low-interest rates have allowed millions of first-time home buyers to realize the American dream of owning their homes.

Investors buying homes to fix up and resell have transformed blighted neighborhoods across the country into places where people want to live. The purchases of furnishings, appliances, decor, etc., by first-time homeowners have been a driving force in the health of our economy.

Investors and speculators have not "artificially driven up the price of all housing." Only in very specific markets, such as condos in Miami, have speculators driven prices beyond reality. Prices are driven by the laws of supply and demand.

Sellers are already lowering their prices. Supply will tighten. If mortgage rates stay low (see the Nov. 23 Times article Mortgage rates at a 10-month low), demand will increase as lower prices and rising employment bring more buyers into the market. And so it goes.

Perhaps instead of continuing "to enjoy living in my wonderful inexpensive apartment reading about the poor fools who were blinded by their own greed," the letter writer should consider investing in a home. Reduced prices today will translate into equity in the future when values rise, as they surely will - especially in Pinellas County.

Chip Crawford, Hernando

Christmas went astray

The closer we get to Christmas, the more saddened I am. I remember when I was younger, people shopped and struggled to get gifts for their children. People then were determined as they are today, but today it is not for the children.

I am appalled at all the Playstation 3s, Wii's, and TMX Elmos that are on eBay. I can't imagine how someone would go and buy a popular toy to make money off of it, especially at Christmas.

I am surprised it is legal. If scalping tickets is illegal then how does this get by? I like eBay for finding odds and ends or used items, but the prices for new items are not a deal at all. I have a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old who would love to have a TMX Elmo, but I refuse to give money to someone who bought something with the direct intention of making a profit off of some desperate parent!

Kim Lorello, New Port Richey

Putting it all on the line | Nov. 25

A more humane holiday

I was saddened that your lead story last Saturday concerned the blatant overconsumption that we Americans indulge in every day. As a Unitarian Universalist, I feel that the time and treasure expended this year and every year just after Thanksgiving could be spent in so many other, demonstrably better ways.

For instance, instead of waiting in an early morning traffic jam, get together with a friend for a lingering breakfast. Instead of standing in line waiting to score a win for the company selling you the next big thing, stand on the shore and watch the waves. Instead of buying more stuff to give to people who probably already have too much stuff, send a contribution to an organization you believe in.

We can all use deeper friendships, more appreciation of our natural world and less stuff.

Susan J. Kane, St. Petersburg

Deputies free man from gator's grip | Nov. 30

A contrary conclusion

Am I correct in my understanding that a man (Adrian Apgar) doing exactly what he's not supposed to do (on two levels) - jumping naked into a Florida lake, high on crack - is attacked by an alligator, doing exactly what it's supposed to do (eat meat!) and as a result it's the alligator that gets "put down"?

Sharyn Blair, Largo

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