By Chelsea Favero, AICP
In my family, riding bikes is a big part of our lives and we take it seriously. Growing up, my siblings and I were encouraged to ride our bikes everywhere, whether it was down the wooded trails near our house or even across town to visit friends. My little brother loved biking so much he even became a professional cyclist and rode throughout the eastern US and Europe. I try to instill a love of biking in my own children now, incorporating biking into every family vacation and even for short trips around our neighborhood, but we do face some safety challenges in our community that I didn’t encounter myself as a child in New England.
Pinellas County is very densely populated and was developed primarily with the movement of the automobile in mind. You can get pretty much anywhere you want with a car around here, but if you want to get around any other way, it can be a challenge. In 2021, there were 646 crashes that involved bicyclists in our county alone. That includes 17 that were fatal. People driving cars are accustomed to looking out for other vehicles, but when it comes to sharing the road with cyclists and pedestrians, our roadways are not designed in a way that makes it intuitive for drivers to look out for these other users. Most driveways into and out of businesses do not delineate where sidewalks cross to draw attention to pedestrians. In areas that do have dedicated lanes for bicyclists, the lanes are often very narrow and not well marked, leaving cyclists vulnerable to collisions with motor vehicles. And our street lighting is substandard in many areas, leaving our most vulnerable roadway users virtually invisible after dark.
The State of Florida has declared March to be Florida Bike Month, an opportunity to draw attention to all of the fantastic opportunities for biking in our near-perfect weather during this month, while also raising awareness to the presence of bicyclists sharing the roadways with full-time residents, seasonal residents and tourists.
While the Pinellas Trail is our county’s signature trail for bicyclists, there are so many other great places to explore by bike here. Each year, Forward Pinellas chooses one of those great places to host an event we call Bike Your City. During Bike Your City, Forward Pinellas and local government partners host a group bicycle ride through one of many wonderful communities. This allows us to highlight the many amenities and unique character of each host city, while also providing an opportunity to share bicycle safety tips with participants.
In the past, Bike Your City has featured the communities of St. Pete Beach, Largo, Clearwater, and Safety Harbor, and even included a virtual scavenger hunt for participants to explore their own neighborhoods.
This year, Forward Pinellas planned the “Bike Your City Gulfport 2022” event, held on Friday, March 18th. The event was a 10-mile group bike ride to draw attention to bicycle and pedestrian safety needs as well as highlight the beautiful City of Gulfport. We had more than 150 participants join us as we gathered at the Gulfport Casino, a historical landmark recently named to the National Registry of Historic Places. We biked along the Shore Boulevard Recreation Trail and Waterfront Improvements project, the Osgood Trail, the Skyway Trail and the Pinellas Trail, and had the opportunity to check out the various businesses and residential neighborhoods that make Gulfport unique. We had such a diverse group of participants, including children, retirees, and others who were interested in exploring all that Gulfport has to offer with a focus on roadway safety provided more public awareness and advocacy for the Safe Streets Pinellas vision zero mission.
“The Gulfport community was chosen for this years’ Bike Your City in part due to the Shore Boulevard Recreational Trail and Waterfront Improvement project. This incredible project was part of a multi-year citywide effort to redevelop the Waterfront Redevelopment District, increase mobility and access within Gulfport’s downtown and commercial center and expand recreational trail access and connectivity within the City of Gulfport and Pinellas County communities,” said Forward Pinellas Principal Planner Angela Ryan.
The Bike Your City Gulfport 2022 event included collaboration with FDOT’s Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow, as well as the City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida Bicycle Association, the Friends of the Pinellas Trail, and Bike/Walk Tampa Bay.
In the future, we look forward to bringing Bike Your City to other communities throughout our county, each year in March, during Florida Bike Month, and organizing the popular virtual rides throughout the year. At Forward Pinellas we work hard to raise awareness of the countless opportunities for biking in all of our communities, while also doing everything we can to improve safety for all users on our trails and roadways. Over time, we hope to improve safety so much that we won’t have any more crashes that result in serious injuries or fatalities on our roadways. The Forward Pinellas Safe Streets Pinellas, Vision Zero Program works toward making sure our communities are safe for everyone to ride their bikes through whether that person is a child biking to see a friend, or an adult going shopping. Everyone should have a safe way to get around their community, regardless of how they travel.
Throughout Florida Bike Month, Forward Pinellas also partnered with the City of Dunedin to join in their community safety event on the Pinellas Trail. We also partnered with FDOT’s Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow Program, and Safe Kids of Greater Tampa Bay through BayCare to create a Bike Safety Teacher Toolkit for several elementary schools throughout the county. Last, we were thrilled to participate in the #LoveToRide Challenge, a free, fun, family-friendly competition to encourage people to ride their bikes and promote bike safety throughout Florida.
If you are passionate about improving safety for those walking or riding their bikes, consider joining us for our next Bike Your City event. Follow us on social media or subscribe to our newsletter to be made aware of upcoming events. Or, consider joining us as a member of one of our advisory committees. Our Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, as well as our Citizens Advisory Committee, are looking for new, diverse members with fresh ideas to improve safety, access, and mobility for all.