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The mean streets of Tampa

Once, I had a dream. I dreamed that as this new semester began, I would become a committed bicycle commuter to and from USF. I dreamed that the adoption of a pollution-free, exercise-intensive mode of transportation would bring me closer to peace with nature, my fellow human beings and myself.

Frankly, I don’t know what in the hell I was thinking. Among the benefits I have indeed gleaned – and there certainly are a few – serenity is not among them.

Most Tampa residents are aware that, beyond a scant mile from the USF campus, bike lanes are extraordinarily rare. And while cycling in normal city traffic is perfectly legal (cyclists are afforded all the rights and responsibilities of motorists in Hillsborough County), it is, to say the least, adventuresome in the same way that the battle of Falluja might be called confrontational.

Staying on sidewalks is impractical, because you will actually have more close calls when you happen to enter an intersection simultaneously with another vehicle. The seven miles I traverse each way border on mortal freaking combat, and thus, by the time I arrive at my first class, I’m not winning any citizenship awards.

Of course, I should’ve known what I was getting into: I’ve lived in Tampa for more than five years, and the only place I’ve seen consistently crazier driving was in Kabul, Afghanistan. You know why? Because it’s a mixture of 1970s diesel taxicabs, assorted military vehicles, donkey carts and the occasional small herd of water buffalo. Outside of that, it’s all Tampa.

In the ranking of cities with the greatest numbers of pedestrian deaths, the top four in all the United States are all in Florida – with the No. 1 slot alternating between Tampa and Orlando, according to the the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP)’s Mean Streets 2004 study.In the way that one who quits a habit tends to re-evaluate those who do not, I find my attitudes toward motorists altering in general. It used to be that I simply shook my finger whenever I saw someone absent-mindedly speeding along, prattling incessantly into a cell phone. Now I want to throw a brick through their window.

But I digress.

This change of transportation has affected my views on other things as well. Even as a sort of low-key (read: lazy) environmentalist, you eventually have to put your money where your mouth is (thus the bike), but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it was the $3 gallon of gas that broke the camel’s back. I’m not alone: Every major newspaper in the country has had at least one story in the past month about people in dozens of cities trading in the Toyota for the Schwinn.

Contrasting this trend with the dire state of traffic safety in Tampa (and elsewhere), one hopes that enough of an increase in cyclists will eventually alleviate the Mad Max nature of our streets. But I’m afraid $3 a gallon just isn’t going to do it – especially with Ford and others finally getting smart with hybrid production.

If we’re going to have a real revolution, I’m thinking, oh, $10 a gallon. Come on, you Texaco bastards. You’ve been screwing me over at the pump for 15 years now. I think you can do me this one solid.

I know, I know – you’re screaming. I can hear you from here. But think about it – a $10 gallon of gas would be about the best thing that could happen to this country. As supply and demand takes its course, all sorts of wonderful events might unfold. For once, this 5 percent of the world’s population might not use 25 percent of the world’s available energy. Pollution would drop, and the term “renewable resource” might become something other than a punch line.Americans might begin to pursue exercise having to do with actual health rather than sheer narcissism. I get it. You do a lot of crunches. Nice abs. Now please, maybe think about wearing a shirt not originally intended for a 12-year-old.

As overseas shipping became expensive enough to outweigh the benefits of hiring foreign workers at third-world wages, manufacturing jobs would return to the United States. And without getting too political, I imagine that invading countries such as, say, Iran, might appear marginally less enticing.

Oh, who am I kidding?

Whatever the possible outcomes of the increase in fuel costs, the fact of the matter remains that zero hour is fast approaching, and everyone will be faced with the same ultimatum: At what point is the convenience of the automobile outweighed by the burden of the budget? To quote Guy Lombardo: Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.

Ryan McGeeney is a senior majoring in political science.