Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mixed emotions at Tampa's Bicycle bash

The city hopes to have a robust bike-sharing in place sometime in 2013.

Posted By on Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 2:57 PM

Mayor Bob Buckhorn leads the way from City Hall to the Bike Bash
  • Chip Weiner
  • Mayor Bob Buckhorn leads the way from City Hall to the Bike Bash
The city of Tampa is slowly but surely moving towards becoming a seriously bike-friendly municipality. Last month Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued out a request for proposal for local entrepreneurs who are interested in creating a bike sharing program, which would stock 300 bikes for low-cost, short-term use made available at closely spaced rental stations.

Such programs have been created in the past two years in places like Washington D.C., Boston, Miami and San Francisco, and advocates for making Tampa a more livable community believe such a program enhances the desirability of the area.

The leading advocate for bicycling in Tampa and the entire Tampa Bay area over the past half-decade or so has been Alan Snel. Snel was at the center of activities on Sunday for the "Bicycle Bash," a celebration and exhibition for cyclists in Hillsborough County, held this year in downtown Tampa at Cotanchobee Park, located behind the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Alan Snel
This year's event was different than the previous ones, because it comes with the news that Snel is soon leaving Tampa Bay - moving to Las Vegas to become a newspaper reporter, which is what he was most of his professional life before circumstances catapulted him to becoming a singular figure bringing the concerns of cyclists to the forefront in Hillsborough County.

"There is nobody whose been a better advocate, and quite candidly -and I say this with all reverence — a pain in the neck — when it comes to the bicycling community," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a short ceremony late Sunday morning in front of a group of observers about an hour into the event. "He's been educating me since I got elected, and I am a better mayor because of it," Buckhorn added.

Although he's known in Tampa as the bike guy (his official title was head of the South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, a/ka/ SWFBUD), Snel came to Tampa originally to work for the Tampa Tribune in 2004.

Karen Kress with the Tampa Downtown Partnership says that Snel's absence from the community will leave a vacuum that will be hard to replace, at least immediately. "I think he created some good momentum," she said while looking around at the various exhibitors who had stations lined up in the downtown park. "He has government officials engaged. Maybe he feels in a way 'mission accomplished' and it's time to move on."

Kress is very active in making Tampa a bike-friendly community herself, and says there are lots of issues on the horizon that are moving the city forward in that respect, referring specifically about a recommendation that has been mentioned in the InVision process about making Nuccio Parkway in Ybor City a more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly pathway, creating a bike path from downtown to Ybor that doesn't currently exist (InVision Tampa is creating a master plan for downtown).

Mayor Buckhorn led a short ride from downtown to Cotanchobee Park to kick off the event. Free bike helmets were also handed out to kids, and various bike dealers and groups (such as the Sierra Club) pitched tents and sat behind desks giving out information about their individual programs.

The event is also geared to the non-hardcore cyclist as well.

Carmen Teo recently moved to Tampa from Singapore for a job. She only has a foldable bike right now, so she's was moving through the park to find information about getting a bigger bike, as well as learn about bike groups she might be able to join. "I heard about this on the website, so I thought I'd check it out," she told CL. She says currently she rides along Bayshore Boulevard and a little bit downtown.

Mayor Buckhorn says he's looking forward to a "great success" with the upcoming bike-sharing program, that city officials expect to be up and running at some point in 2013, if all things work out with the vendor selected (the deadline to submit a proposal to the city to run the program is this coming Wednesday).

"We're not where we want to be, but we’re getting better," the mayor allowed about the progress the city has been made in making it bike-friendly. "Everyday we’re doing more and more," he said.

Dan O’Leary from Pinellas County attended the bike-bash. Although he says he rode a bike as a kid, he's seriously taken up riding on a recumbent bike after surviving cancer in 2011. "My doctor recommended it to me. I picked it up and I just love it," he said, adding that he travels around the state to ride along trails like the Van Fleet Bicycle Trail in Orange County and the Pinellas Trail.

O'Leary said he had mixed emotions about Alan Snel's departure from the local bike scene.
“He has done tremendous things for this area,"he said. "He’s been a leader for all of us working on different projects with Tampa, Hillsborugh, Pinellas, he’s done wonderful things. I hate to see him go, but you know, I’m sure he’s making the right move for himself."

O'Leary asked Snel who would now take the lead in being an advocate in Tampa Bay. Snel said he was confident that other people would step up in due time, and said it might even better if it was a "collection" of people.

That remains to be seen. His work in making the area bike friendly is now complete. Now it's up to the rest of us.

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