Cyclists in Tampa Look Forward to New Road Projects
TAMPA, Fla., April 19 -- Roadways in Tampa are under construction to create a safer, greener transportation route for cyclists. Tampa ranks last among 60 other metropolitan cities in terms of commuting, according to a 2010 Forbes.com survey, and in the past two years, fatal accidents with motorists have caused the deaths of 17 cyclists in Hillsborough County. An advocacy group called Transportation for American even ranked the city as the second most dangerous in the nation in terms of fatal cyclist and pedestrian accidents, after Orlando.
Yet, all this could change with the installation of new bike lanes along one of the cities’ most popular through-routes to the downtown, Bayshore Boulevard. The 4.5 mile long road is a beautiful open stretch of two-lane traffic that looks out to the bay with a the scenic skyline in the backdrop, and though a wide sidewalk currently exists for those wishing to enjoy it walking, jogging, and skating, cyclists will now benefit from a massive expansion taking place.
In 2009, the three-phase Bayshore Boulevard Enhancement Project was proposed, and completion of Phase One last January added 4-foot lanes on to both sides of road for 1.6 miles of the Bayshore route. This cost the city about $1.5 million to build, and was funded by state gasoline taxes. Even though only a small portion is done, cyclists feel it’s a great start.
“Anything like that would be awesome. I know that you can usually ride on the sidewalk and everything, but if you’re on a road bike or anything like that, it’s a battlefield,” said Kevin Craft, 27, a manager at City Bike a local bike store on Cass Street.
Lukas Kuebler, 20, a junior at The University of Tampa, also approves of the project. As a student without a car, he says he walks or bikes everywhere. “I think that’s extremely important. As it runs now, it only goes halfway to Howard, and that’s not event a quarter of Bayshore. I think they can’t do it fast enough. They really need build new bike lanes, because as it is, it’s really rough and it’s too crowded to ride on the sidewalk.”
Phase Two of the expansion project will cost $2 million and is scheduled to begin in 2014, and would add more bike lanes just south of the first phase expansion. Phase Three’s anticipated construction date will not be announced until funding become available, according to the City of Tampa’s Department of Transportation. The project started in response to major safety concerns stemming from the death of a jogger hit by a motorcyclist along the route in 2004.
“Auto vs. bike accidents happen most as a result of the bicyclist riding on the wrong side of the road, disobeying traffic lights and signs, or not being seen because they are hidden on the sidewalk and traveling opposite of traffic,” said Katie White, Assistant Director of the Department of Campus Recreation at The University of Tampa. White manages a bike share program at the school that is free for students.
According to the website for the National Bicycle Safety Network (NBSN, bicycling needs allow for “safe and accessible roadways” and “enforced proper roadway behaviors.” The Florida Bicycling Association defines a bike legally as a vehicle, and urges that bicyclists follow all the same rules of the road as cars.
“Accidents are the fault of both the bicyclists and the drivers, I think they bicyclists don’t know what they should be doing a lot of the time, and I think that the motorists are not as aware as they possibly should be, so there’s a lot that education that can be taken care of,” said Craft.
Tampa has started to address the problem, and the Department of Transportation has issued a comprehensive Bicycle Safety Action Plan, which aims to reduce the amount of injuries and fatal accidents for cyclists. The plan highlights Washington’s successful StreetSmart bike safety program, which educates riders about the rules of the road, as a model. The 2010 Forbes study listed Washington D.C., New York, and San Francisco, and Honolulu as ideal for transport because of their green commuting options that include bike-share programs and a plethora of bike lanes.
Some community members are the Bayshore project will lead to an increase in cyclists. “The bike culture here is still growing…but I don’ think it’s become the full culture yet. I think a lot of that will be development of downtown.” said Craft.
The Tampa Department of Transportation currently has eight street projects in the works aimed to enhance bike routes.
Dory Estrada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org