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Here’s what to expect in St. Pete City Council’s bike share discussion

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The St. Petersburg City Council will likely set a date Thursday to decide whether to fund the first phase of a bike-share program in the city. At a council workshop, city staff is set to deliver a more than 60-page slideshow laying out how the program will work, how much it will cost, where bikes would be available, and benefits likely to be achieved.

But don’t wait for the meeting to get those details. According to Evan Mory, the city’s director of parking and transportation, the city is asking for just $500,000 from the overall $6.5 million awarded through the BP oil spill settlement. That’s half of what Mayor Rick Kriseman had originally requested.

Another $1 million to fully fund the program would be derived $500,000 each from the city’s transportation impact fees and parking fees. City Council would have to appropriate those expenditures, too.

This issue began a contentious one, with some City Council members worrying $1 million for bike share was too much to spend out of the BP money at a time when the city was grappling to pay for sweeping improvements to its wastewater infrastructure.

Now that the ask has been halved, though, City Council members may be keener to approve the expenditure.

And Mory plans to make a strong argument for bike share, namely that it’s a way to increase transportation options in and around downtown where mobility in cars is becoming increasingly more difficult, through increased traffic and more scarce parking.

The city is making strides in trying to encourage visitors to downtown to ditch their cars as much as possible; bike share is one more way to make that happen. And the purpose of BP money was to support sustainability issues. Cycling fits that bill by reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Kriseman said during his recent State of the City address, what better way to spend BP money than to create a program that reduces the city’s need for BP?

And there is plenty of community support for the initiative. Cesar Morales is heading up a local group called BP for Bike Share.

“It’s not just health, it’s not just sustainability, it’s economic as well,” Morales said.

He explained several ways adding bikes to the downtown transportation mix could boost the economy. For starters, many out-of-town visitors who stay downtown isolate themselves to the Beach Drive area. With bikes, they suddenly have the ability to expand their St. Pete adventure to places like Tropicana Field and the Edge District, Grand Central and the Warehouse Arts District.

“This isn’t just recreational,” he said.

And there’s another argument for bike share City Council members may find appealing – boosting economic viability in South St. Pete.

Both City Council and Mayor Kriseman have made improving impoverished conditions, particularly in Midtown, a top priority. The word “Deuces” gets thrown around a lot when talking about economic growth. That describes areas along 22nd Street South.

It abuts the growing Warehouse Arts District, the booming 3 Daughters Brewery and it includes downtown Midtown. There’s a newly opened St. Petersburg College Campus and Chief’s Creole Café. And there’s The Deuces Barbeque.

Patrick Collins is the owner. He’s a white guy with a barbecue joint in a mostly black community. He didn’t’ exactly fit the Midtown stereotype. But Collins saw promise in the corridor and vibrancy in the neighborhood.

Collins is frustrated at the lack of connectivity to nearby districts like Edge and Grand Central. The downtown looper skips his block. And the Central Avenue Trolley does too.

“If we’re good enough for a bike stop, are we good enough for a trolley stop,” Collins said making the argument that bike share in Midtown may be a stepping stone to more robust transit in the area.

According to Mory, Midtown will get at least one bike share station in the preliminary stages of the program. The city partnered with an outside firm to evaluate where stations should be.

They determined the 30 stations and 300 bikes initially planned for the program will be spread among downtown, Grand Central, the Deuces and areas north and south of downtown like Coffee Pot Bayou and near USFSP and Bayfront and All Children’s hospitals.

The city went through a Request for Proposal process in which four companies bid on the job of managing the program. Of those, three were considered. Mory and his crew are recommending Cycle Hop, the same company that operates Tampa’s bike share program. The idea is to create a regionally supported program.

The city also chose to go with a program where the technology for the bikes – GPS, payment processing, etc. – is located on the bikes rather than having fuller-service kiosks.

This way, Mory said, the city is cutting costs, and it will be able to own the bikes. It also gives the city better access to data from the bikes to determine where they are most popular.

If the program is successful, which Mory anticipates it will be, the goal is to expand the program eventually to other parts of the city.

The current proposal includes a three-year contract with Cycle Hop to run the program. If the city is satisfied with the company near the end of that initial contract, they can renew for another three years.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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