Too dangerous to ride my bicycle, bicycle

Tampa, you’ve done it. Day in and day out, you use shoulders as turn lanes, fail to yield at crosswalks and scream at anyone who uses something other than a gas-guzzling motor to get around. Well, all of that hard work has paid off. Once again you are one of the most dangerous metropolitan areas in the nation for bikers and pedestrians.

Every year you make sure dozens of cyclists and walkers die in the streets. St. Petersburg caved and was voted as one of the most biker-friendly cities in the state by the League of American Bikers, but you held strong and showed those bikers who owns the road.

Tampa is number one, baby!

And the kudos don’t just stop with Tampa. Congratulations to the state of Florida.

Consistently ranked in the top five in the country in pedestrian and biker deaths, the Tampa Bay area has nearly shot itself in the foot when it comes to making its cities safer. In 2003, the Sunshine State was second in the nation in bicycle deaths with 101, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. We were second only to California, which had just 5 more deaths, 106, despite nearly double Florida’s population.

Without enough funding and legislative backing, councils such as the Hillsborough County Planning Organization, which meets every second Wednesday, have typically a few things to rely on to help get bike lanes.

New bike lanes cost too much money so Gena Torres, Senior Planner of the Hillsborough Planning Organization, has to resort to a different mode of change. If a road needs resurfacing, the Planning Organization tries to sway the city into narrowing the existing lanes to make room for a bike lane.

The system seems to be gaining some ground for local pedaling enthusiasts, a mark of change in the right direction.

The downtown area has bike lanes on Tampa Street and will soon have another on Jackson Street. Nebraska Avenue will also upgrade its roads with bikes lanes between Kennedy Boulevard and Hillsborough Avenue later this year.

Score one for Hillsborough.

In addition, there seems to be a new breed of bikers who are trying to sway the county and garner attention through grassroots campaigns and blogs. Tampa Baycycle, a movement of Bay area riders, has set up a Web site encouraging amateurs and professional riders alike to use their bike for more than recreation. The group has a campaign to get 1,000 people from Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties to use their bike as a mode of transportation to and from work.

A former Tampa Tribune writer has also decided to take the issue to the Web. Alan Snel maintains a blog called “Bike Stories” about his daily non-automobile adventures roaming around the Tampa Bay area. He takes shots at the city for its poor management and offers tips and advice for ways to navigate the streets by bike. I especially liked his photo of a road bike on a trainer in what looks to be a bike shop. The bike has a sign attached to the seat that says “Change the World: Each U.S. rush hour auto-commuter spends an average of 50 HOURS a year stuck in traffic! Go by bike!”

Snel now represents six Bay area bike shops under the coalition South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, who fight for bicyclist rights. Some might say he’s a bit crazy. He bikes an average of 12,000 miles a year and has biked solo across the county – twice.

But I’d like to think he’s dedicated. He’s one of those people who say they’re going to do something and sticks to it. I can’t count how many times I’ve said “I’m going to ride my bike everywhere and (insert some idea about saving gas, protecting the environment or getting exercise).” The fact is, as soon as I get on my Riggio and head down Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, I not only feel like I’m going to hyperventilate from heat exhaustion, but I hold tight and brave the elements for fear that some vehicle is going to throw me into a ditch, at the very least.

Without people like Snel and Torres, amateur bikers such as myself wouldn’t have an option. And even though riding my bike on a six-lane highway may not be the best idea, I’d like to think I’m changing things for the better. Who knows, I might inspire one of the drivers whizzing past me to take his or her bike off the trainer and ride it to work.