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  1. Opinion

Joe Henderson: Sales-tax hike for transportation a good start at safer bicycling

A group riding bicycles takes advantage of a window of clear weather to ride along Bayshore blvd. in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
A group riding bicycles takes advantage of a window of clear weather to ride along Bayshore blvd. in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Sep. 27, 2018

While the "All For Transportation" sales tax initiative in November is mostly about improving traffic congestion that is choking Hillsborough County, there is an interesting part of the plan that hasn't gotten as much attention.

If the referendum passes,12 percent of money collected would be dedicated for the proposal calls "bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure … that make walking and biking safer."

The ways of getting around are changing. Tampa is changing.

There will be more bicyclists, not fewer. Streets and roads are being adapted to accommodate that. Transportation is taking on a new meaning.

But that also can be dangerous. A cursory stroll through Google shows stories and studies that highlight the dangers of cycling in Hillsborough and Florida, along with some ads for attorneys that specialize in bicycle-related injuries.

I have a few theories about how we came to be No. 1 on his unsightly list, starting with the fact that anyone who takes to our streets on two wheels should be classified as a daredevil.

Despite efforts to create dedicated bike lanes and raise awareness for motorists that they have to share the road, it's just flat out dangerous to be pedaling on a busy street. Our roads are already overcrowded, which makes drivers impatient and more likely to try to take chances that can end badly.

Add to that the fact that we're getting into the snowbird season, which means we'll have more out-of-state drivers who are unfamiliar with traffic patterns or the concept of making streets friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

Drivers also are distracted. They send text messages when they should be paying attention to the road. They talk on the phone. They take a glug of their morning coffee. Or they drive too fast because they're in a hurry. It greatly increases the odds of a disaster.

And there is the shifting social norm.

Millennials don't want to own cars. They want to live within biking or walking distance from work, often downtown. We're seeing that in Tampa and adding cyclists and walkers to an already cramped road space places extra demands for vigilance by anyone driving a car.

And, let's be honest, sometimes our two-wheeled friends take foolish chances.

I've seen cyclists appear out of seeming nowhere and veer in front of oncoming cars. That's especially true for motorcycle drivers. I would imagine most of us have had the experience of a Harley shooting across our front bumper at 90 miles an hour while weaving between cars like someone playing a video game.

So, if it's not safe on the road, how about sidewalks? It's safe to be a pedestrian, right?

Get serious.

We see reports all the time about pedestrians being struck by motorists who don't always stop. Most mornings, I like to walk a three-mile loop in my neighborhood. I try to stay on the sidewalk, but sometimes that's not possible because someone didn't pull their SUV fully into the driveway and I get forced to the street.

Well, the other day, a large pickup zoomed past just as I was maneuvering around the blocked sidewalk. The driver appeared to be sending a text and wasn't paying attention. Fortunately, I was.

I avoided the fate of being launched 20 yards into space before turning into hamburger.

There is no single answer that will make our streets safer for all modes of transportation, but we need to do much better.

The "All For Transportation" sales tax referendum county voters will consider in November would require 12 percent of money collected be dedicated for the proposal calls "bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure … that make walking and biking safer."

That would be a good start.

Let's face it though, we love our cars in Hillsborough County. The concept of mass transit has never caught on, and the idea of sharing the road with bicyclists and watching out for pedestrians apparently is a culture shock.

Better get used to it, though.

The ways of getting around are changing. Tampa is changing.

There will be more bicyclists, not fewer. Streets and roads are being adapted to accommodate that. Transportation is taking on a new meaning.

Resistance, as they say, is futile.

Worse, resistance can be deadly.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this column included information from a Wall Street Journal report that could not be verified.

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