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Commuter Choices Week in Tampa Bay

Commuter choices week header

All this week, Bay Area Commuter Services is having their annual “Commuter Choices Week“, with festivities and bike rides throughout the Tampa Bay area. On October 1st, I attended their “Party on Poe Plaza”. There were representatives from local bike shops, bicycle/pedestrian planning organizations, the area’s two municipal bus services and many others in attendance.

part of the crowd

Even better, this event was attended by folks from the national, state and local governments. It was a veritable “who’s who” of Senatorial staff, Congresspeople, County Commissioners and planning chiefs — someone from U.S. Senator Mel Martinez’s office came and made a speech, our U.S. Congressional Representative Kathy Castor said a few words, and Hillsborough County Commissioner and all-around great lady Rose Ferlita gave the keynote address to the gathering.

Here’s Rose Ferlita (behind the podium at left) addressing the folks in attendance:
Rose Ferlita

Everyone in attendance seemed to agree that more work is needed in the Tampa Bay area to get people to use alternative forms of transportation. Although there was a lot of talk about “light rail” solutions, plenty was said about building bicycling infrastructure throughout the area. As this is the event’s 11th anniversary, it is apparent that the Tampa Bay area is really looking to change for the better — the event is better-attended every year and with all the politicians and planning professionals mingling with the crowd, good things CAN happen if we’re patient (and vocal!).

Oh, did I mention that Thunderbug, the mascot of NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning (2003 Stanley Cup Champions) also came to the event on his custom-made trike? Here he is:
Thunderbug

Going to this event also gave me the opportunity to talk with the organizer of Tampa Bay’s upcoming Bicycle Bash By the Bay, which the Bikecommuters.com team will be participating in. Stay tuned for more info on that event, which will take place on November 4th at the Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg.

Turn that frown upside down!!

Some of you may know that RL and I have been living with one car instead of two..which has its many advantages. RL had to take the car today for a job that was kinda far so I opted to be the bike commuter today. I don’t work far at all but because of some driving responsibilities I have at work I have to make sure to bring my car to work most days. But not today. Today was a beautiful day for a bike ride.

RL, of course being the big fan he is, needed to get a picture of me. As you can see I am just a little agitated!! I wasn’t too happy this morning because I was already running late for work. I hadn’t had anything to eat yet and had just spent the last 20min curling my hair. Why you ask? Good grief, I don’t know. I thought for some reason my bouncing curls could withstand the tightening pressure of that helmet. What was I thinking? I ended up just putting my hair up in a clip when I got to work. 🙁

The commute actually was short and sweet. No near death experiences to report! And I can’t complain about any weird smell or trash around here. It was actually a nice smog filled commute. Rather uneventful, but still fun. 🙂 It didn’t take long for the commute to change my attitude and put a smile back on my face.

The co workers…ohhhhhed and awwwwed as they saw my bike. This was the one day I wish I had brought the camera with me. They LOVED the Xtracycle. We had a little downtime today because somebody microwaved their lunch without turning off the lights…and it shut down our server. Yeah, yeah I know…don’t ask. But the co workers thought it would be a great time to get rides across the parking lot on the Xtracycle! We had soo much fun! One right after the other..they all jumped on the back and off we rode. By the end, my boss (Thomas) was giving my manager (Alan) a ride on the Xtracycle. Hilarious scene!

Good times to say the least. But it was great to see everyone with so many smiles on their faces…the joy of riding a bike. Once we were back in the office the mood was elevated and we were all talking about what a great time we had. I was glad I rode my bike today and was able to share just a little of that with the co workers. 🙂

And here is a random happy pic from interbike because I don’t like my agitated photo above. HA!

A Bike Lane Runs To It

If you live in or near the city of Tampa, Florida, you will know that the car rules around here. While there are plenty of quiet streets to bicycle upon, there are not very many useful bike lanes in the area. Where bike lanes do exist, they have a tendency to start and stop at random, not linking up with other lanes or providing an unbroken route for cyclists to take advantage of.

But, things are changing — just a couple weeks ago, the city put the finishing touches on a bike lane that actually goes somewhere!

Tampa's newest bike lane

This is the new bike lane, running from just north of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd all the way down to and INTO the heart of downtown Tampa. The lane runs down the right side of a busy one-way called Tampa Street. This street is the main surface road into downtown, and can be quite busy early in the morning as folks rush to work in the urban core. Before the lane was constructed, I had found a quiet residential street a few blocks east that served my purposes for a fairly direct commuting route. Now, though, I can take this bike lane to within a couple blocks of the library where I work!

Here’s another shot with the downtown skyline visible:
the lane with skyline in the distance

Even though my previous route was peaceful, scenic and quiet, I feel compelled to use this new bike lane, even though there are a LOT of cars out there with me. And that brings up a few questions — do you readers try to use bike lanes where available, even if there is a quieter or better route at your disposal? Should I feel compelled to use this lane (I mean, what if transportation officials are watching? Will they build more?)?

This is a step in the right direction for Tampa — let’s hope there are more lanes in the works! The new lane is smooth and fast. My only gripe is that there is not a corresponding northbound bike lane to take me back out of downtown toward home, and according to Florida DOT officials and the Mayor of Tampa, there is no plan to create one in the near future, even though there is a perfect northbound, one-way, multi-lane road only 3 blocks from this new lane. Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, but I WILL step up my letters and emails to the transportation planners in the area!

A bike is an excellent piece of exercise equipment as well as a perfect means of transportation. Biking is better exercise than a home gym can provide, and you’ll feel better about yourself when you’re conserving energy. No other sport, not even golf equipment, can make you feel so good about the environment!

i love the smell of apathy in the morning

There is no denying the fact that Phoenix stinks. Seriously, the city (generally speaking) has a bad odor to it. This is a fact that I never really came to notice until I started bike commuting. And as it has become custom for me to do, I contemplate these things while I am riding to and from work each day. It is easy to see why the city has a foul odor – there is litter everywhere, a plethora of cars and machines spewing pollutants, very little natural “greenspace,” and trash cans baking in the intense sun. But why is that the case?

Reluctantly, and non-judgmentally, I think America’s “car-culture” is, at one level, a root cause of such a catastrophe as a smelly city. It is our willingness to drive even only down the street to a store or friends house that facilitates the downward spiral into poor city conditions. When we step into a car, we are removing ourselves from our surroundings, and just as Robert Pirsig wrote about in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, viewing the world through a frame – just as we do when watching tv. All of a sudden, the world around us does not seem real, but mere fiction. And therefore the problems in that world are just as fictional. When we are in cars, we don’t have to worry about the litter or the smell, because it does not exist. We do not see it and we do not smell it.

I never intend to force my personal beliefs on anyone else. But from time to time, in order to provide appropriate context, it is necessary to reveal things about one-self and the life one lives. So here is a story:

This past Sunday at church, the priest (Father Gil) gave a well-delivered sermon about the growing disparity between rich and poor. Episcopalians use 3 readings from scripture during every Sunday service, and this week there was a reading from Luke’s gospel about a rich man and a poor man, to which Fr. Gil stated the following:

What was the rich man’s sin that resulted in him being sent to Hades? It seems that his sin was what he didn’t do rather than what he did. He ignored the poor man Lazarus. He didn’t do anything to help Lazarus. He averted his eyes from Lazarus’ condition and did nothing to help him. [read more…]

And tying this back into bike commuting: it is our willingness, as modern Americans, to drive anywhere and everywhere that facilitates a culture that ignores the real problems of our own communities. I guarantee that no one who walks by all the trash on the road smiles and says, “that is so pretty, and the smell…heavenly!” Instead, we plop ourselves into a car to drive someplace, and are not confronted with the reality of it. It’s not that we are always the ones creating the litter. But we ignore it, all from the comfort of our air conditioned, sea breeze-scented, rolling world-shrinker.

So it is only when we immerse ourselves in reality that we can truly see what the problems are. And I have the youthful ignorance to believe that when those problems become real to each of us, we will eventually reach a tipping point and do something about it. And because of that, I urge people to take a bike ride or a walk around something as remote and small as your own neighborhood, and if you see a piece of trash, pick it up. It’s such a simple thing to do – and as we do it more frequently, it will become almost second nature, until we restore the care and respect for our surroundings. Our neighborhoods and our cities need it. And our conscience will be happy…

The Velorution is about more than bikes.