Publisher’s Note: This is the second article in our series about finding solutions to Tampa Bay’s transportation challenges.
It’s all about being connected. Tampa Bay is on the move as this region grows in population, tourism and new businesses. Increasingly, public and private entities are talking to create a network of sustainable transportation solutions for the coming decades.
Rodney Chatman understands this need. The St. Petersburg native is the planning division manager at Forward Pinellas, the county’s land use and transportation planning agency. It facilitates state and federally funded projects and coordinates efforts among the 25 local, independent governments to ensure consistency in planning and regulatory efforts.
“We’re a clearinghouse,“ says Chatman. “We strive to improve transportation in the county for all modes of travel, including mass transit, walking and bicycling as well as automobiles.”
In 2016, two cyclists and 45 pedestrians died in Pinellas County. This year, Forward Pinellas created the Vision Zero action plan with the goal of eliminating cycling and walking fatalities via infrastructure upgrades.
“I am confident that crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists will continue to drop,” Chatman claims.
Forward Pinellas relies heavily on citizen input and public involvement to guide its plans and pro- grams. And Julie Bond understands this need. The program director at Bike/Walk Tampa Bay, describes her two-year-old group as, “a regional coalition of citizens, advocates, professionals and organizations created to make walking and bicycling the preferred modes of transportation in the Tampa Bay region.” Their partners include over 100 government and private groups, including the Downtown St. Petersburg Partnership, Forward Pinellas and the state’s Department of Transportation. The group is allied with USF/Tampa and its chair Jane Castor, Tampa’s first and now retired female police chief.
If it’s about cycling and walking, Bond can promote it. “I live in Temple Terrace, but my husband and I cycle to (southern Pinellas) a lot. We cycle down Gulf Boulevard. We love Pass-a-Grille. And we spend money.” Her group’s comprehensive approach advocates not only for increased use of these activities but to make them safer, through broad education and infrastructure improvements.
Members have given safety presentations to more than 40,000 people in all walks of life, including the homeless in shelters. Says Bond, “We’re trying to educate that group of people who walk very frequently and have high exposure.”
Through WalkWise Tampa Bay they partnered with the Rotary Club of the Gulf Beaches and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce to distribute signs and cards reminding drivers, pedestrians and cyclists that safety is a shared responsibility. More than 100 business- es displayed the signs and 170,000-plus “Key To Safety” cards have been included with room keys in hotels. Hotel staffs are also encouraged to raise further awareness with guests.
Last February, BWTB volunteers took part in St. Petersburg’s Complete Streets program which audit- ed six streets, evaluating usage aspects to focus upon improvements in areas with multiple travel modes. Last March, BWTB held its first Operation Blindspot event in Treasure Island, in conjunction with the Lions Club. Participants learned the risks of being a sightless pedestrian. Bond summarizes BWTB’s tenacious efforts, “Every week starts to make this area safer for walking and bicycling.”
How popular is this area for cyclists? The Pinellas Trail’s 49 miles (in Pasco and Pinellas counties) is one of the most heavily utilized trail systems in Florida and nationally recognized. Over 5,000 cyclists and walkers use it daily and many use Strava, a website and mobile app that tracks athletes activities including cycling and running via satellite navigation. In addition, St. Petersburg has 117 miles of on-street bike lanes and shared use trails and cycling is rapidly on the rise.
Not only is the activity healthy; it brings an economic windfall, Bond notes. And BWTB works with the national League of American Bicyclists to certify local firms as Bicycle Friendly Businesses, recognizing employers providing a welcoming atmosphere for cycling employees, customers and community members.
Pinellas continues to attract talented millennials who “want accessibility and bikeable, walkable livability,” says Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. To this end, St. Petersburg began its Coast Bike Share program in 2014 with 30 stations in the downtown St. Pete area, around USF and extending along Central Avenue.
Managed by national implementer CycleHop, Coast’s “social bicycles” are shared by individuals on a short-term basis. The bikes can be unlocked from one station and returned to any other in the system making bike share ideal for short, one-way trips. For an added fee, a bike can be locked at non-program stands for later pickup by Coast. Registered users reserve bikes via a mobile app or the keyboard on the bike’s solar-powered GPS. Occasional users need only a credit card. The fee is $8 per hour (prorated), $15 per month or $79 annually, with student discounts available. The bikes are geared but use no chain and include baskets and an integrated stand lock.
Coast Bike Share has hundreds of bicycles in its network and also operates in Tampa. It’s an efficient use of clean technology to promote a healthy lifestyle while commuting to work, school, running errands or just having fun on St. Pete’s trails and streets.
The pedals are turning to reduce Pinellas traffic. For more information go to www.forwardpinellas.org.