It should come as no surprise to our many Tampa Bay-area readers, but the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area took a beating in Forbes Magazine when it was announced that we are DEAD LAST (60th out of 60 places) — the worst of the U.S. cities for commuters.
Folks around here know it stinks…where the few bicycle lanes and infrastructure are hard-fought concessions, bus service is spotty and inefficient, there is no light- or commuter-rail (yet) and millions of dollars are being poured into widening existing highways rather than alternatives to the motor vehicle. And statistically, we’ve been proven time and time again to be decidedly dangerous to the lives of bicyclists and pedestrians: 1 in every 10 US pedestrian fatalities is in Florida. 1 in every 6 US bicycle fatalities is in Florida. And within these deaths, the Tampa/St. Pete metro area is #2 in “Pedestrian Danger Index” (right behind Orlando).
One thing mentioned in the Forbes study is that the sweltering heat contributes to the unfriendliness of commuter choices such as bicycling and walking, and while that heat CAN be rough, I’d argue that it is much easier to deal with than the brutal cold faced by many other cities — and in those cities, choices abound for commuters. Some of the most bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Portland, Toronto and Seattle have horrendous weather…cold, rain, snow and ice. Meanwhile, in a state which is blessed with nearly year-round nice weather, we suffer from a lack of choices and an out-of-touch political mindset. Florida just doesn’t get it…what little improvements we’ve seen are an afterthought, despite some very powerful and knowledgeable advocacy organizations and the ugly fatality statistics staring us all in the face.
There may be hope on the horizon, what with the Obama Administration announcing over $1 billion to create ahigh-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. But, as with all such projects, more money is needed to complete this line and taxpayers are going to be asked to vote for a penny sales tax increase. As you might imagine, this isn’t sitting well with a lot of area residents who can’t see a benefit to commuter rail and other improvements.
All this makes me want to pull up stakes and head somewhere else where the residents and the politicians understand and appreciate alternatives to the car. What do you think?