Fowler Avenue in Tampa gets safer bike lanes by 2016 as part of a DOT pilot program

Buffered bike lanes give riders room

TAMPA, Fla. - Many studies show Tampa Bay is one of the most dangerous regions for pedestrians and bicyclists. But a lot of people think we can lose that grim distinction and make bike commuting commonplace.

One small pedal in that direction is happening on a very unlikely street.

Fowler Avenue is not a very friendly road for cars, much less cyclists. But a planned re-paving project will take a few inches from each existing car lane and create a  bike path on each side of the road  along with a two to three foot visual buffer from the traffic.  

Jim Shirk, City Bike co-owner and chair of a cycling advisory committee, said so-called buffered or protected bike lanes save lives.

"Forty percent of bike crashes are caused by the car running into the back of the bike," Shirk said.

In American cities like Seattle and more commonly in Europe, bike lanes with visual or physical barriers help drivers know where to expect cyclists. In Copenhagen, the street lights are actually timed for bikes, not cars.

Florida's car culture probably wouldn't tolerate that, but there's been progress. The City of Tampa added a bike lane along busy Florida Avenue and Tampa Street, though in some parts,  cyclists are put within inches of fast moving cars and trucks.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has vowed to make Tampa more bike friendly with sharing programs and plans for a Cass Street bike lane that will link Hyde Park with Ybor City and beyond.  But to actually take cars off the road and offer commuters a real transportation choice, bike advocates say the bay area has to create more safe and useful bike corridors not just for recreational riders but for the many low income residents who are "bike dependent."

"They can't afford a car. What they can afford is a bicycle. So if we want to get them to work so they can be productive members of society, make it possible [for them] to get to work without dying," Shirk said.
By summer of 2016, the new Fowler Avenue buffered bike lanes will run from Nebraska Avenue to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. It's part of a pilot project to create a standard type of bike lane the Department of Transportation can put in place on state roads around Florida.

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