By Charlie Simms
Saint Petersburg, a city overran with a cycling community. With the Pinellas trail and the master plan for bike lanes and trails, it seems like the city has it perfect. But, like any town, it has its flaws. For example, the completion of the Pinellas trail doesn’t seem to be in the near future. “We are waiting on a Tiger Grant so we can begin the process. I cannot tell you a date right now,” stated a city clerk of the Metropolitan Planning Committee.
When most people think of bike riding, they tend to see it as more of a recreational activity and/or an exercise choice. That goes for the city itself as well, which may be why the Trail is not yet completed. Looking at the list of trails that spread through Pinellas, Hernando, Polk, lake, Hillsborough, and the city of Tampa, it is easy to see that many of the trails that have been created are not meant for commuting to and from work and school. The majority of these trails are located on the outskirts of the main public areas, being placed in nature parks or near beaches. This is great for recreational use, but inconvenient for cycling commuters and students.
The topic of commuting to and from work and school by bike becomes a developing concern among cyclist. Wither it is using the roads, or using the trail, there are risk factors that are not taken into account. During the day, the big issue of riding the roads is that not all the busy streets have bike lanes, and drivers now a days do not pay as much attention as they should, with cell phones and other things that can distract even the best of us. With bike lanes lacking, or weaving in and out of the roads, especially off of Clearwater beach, getting to and from where cyclists need to go is a serious safety risk. The only solution that can be used in this case is moving onto sidewalks when available.
Biking at night is another issue entirely. Over the past few years, crime on the trail seems to be on an incline. Despite only about a dozen thefts being reported each year on the trail, compared to a thousand or so in the city itself, many instances go unreported. August of 2014, just over a year ago, Lydia Ann Tross was found dead off in a grassy ditch right near the trail. Others have been chased and harassed on the trail. Drug deals were also very prevalent on the trail until the city started cracking down more recently. But despite putting up cameras (43rd St S to 49th ST S-along 8th Ave S, just as of recently), and having patrols on the trail (at least that they claim) using the trail at night is still dangerous.
The biggest concern seems to be how bikes are considered ‘Motor Vehicles’ here in saint Petersburg, despite most cyclists not being able to maintain the speeds of cars and trucks. “Tour de France sprinters can go 40 miles per hour, a pro athlete can go 40 miles per hour. No person can do that on a regular basis. Those are 500 meter sprints, and their trying to go to work. That is impossible to do at certain speeds on certain roads.” Said Alex Sim, SPC student and regular cyclist. A typical biker cannot be on a road that has a regular speed of 25 miles per hour or more. 15 miles per hour is a reasonable speed.
Downtown, Central Avenue, the speed is 15 MPH, most cyclists can go that fast. The issue with driving downtown then becomes this. Central Avenue, the heart street of downtown, does not have bike lanes, plus the street itself, especially the deeper into downtown you go, is not wide enough to accommodate both parties. The parking is very restrictive to the road which makes it almost impossible to add a bike lane to central anyway, so cyclists are forced to weave in and out of traffic and avoid hooligan drivers. Luckily, most of central provides sidewalks as an option to cyclists.
Our neighbor, Tampa, has been making great strides in the terms of accommodation to the growing biking community. The city of Tampa has developed a system that allows its citizens to enjoy the freedom of biking without having to own one. Many bike companies throughout Tampa bay have set up stops by their shops and around town that allows people to rent bikes for allotted amounts of time. COOST for example, a popular bike store in Tampa, will rent out its bikes by the hour. They also offer other pass options like monthly and annually. Tampa also provide more bike lanes on the majority of streets in the main parts of town. This is the example Saint Petersburg should be following.
Riding in Saint Pete is great for the recreational rider, with its many nature paths. But, if biking is a main form of transportation, then many cyclists have some waiting to do. But even though completion seems to be nowhere in sight, and the city is dragging its feet on the issue of cycling safety, That doesn’t mean the idea should just be thrown out the window. The best thing to do to stay safe while biking is plan. Look for the road maps that the county provides online (http://www.pinellascounty.org/trailgd/). Bike during the day if possible, if not because of work, make sure to wear reflective gear, and try to use the sidewalks if they are available either way. The number one thing though, is to always be alert, no matter where or at what time. Biking is an enjoyable and heathy thing, so go ahead and do it. Be smart, safe, and have fun.