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Steve Kornell blasts bike share program on Facebook

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council member Steve Kornell is calling the Rick Kriseman administration “tone deaf.”

For that matter, he’s calling anyone who supports spending city money on a proposed bike share program “tone deaf.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, Kornell linked to a story published by the Tampa Bay Times online Tuesday about the failures of a bike share program in Seattle, Washington.

“It is tone deaf to think a bike share program for short term trips downtown is our top priority at this time. It is no even the top transportation need,” Kornell wrote. “That would be running the central avenue trolley all the way up central to help the west central business district, running the trolley in the Skyway Marina District and running BRT (bus rapid transit) into the deuces to support the Renaissance that has started there. None of those were even considered!”

Now, I’ve defended Kornell over and over amid the senseless attacks directed at him by the Times over his passionate and strong-willed stance on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium debacle. It was an issue on which we did not even agree, but I still thought the treatment he received from a newspaper so blinded by dollar signs was unfair.

I say that only to say this: I don’t have his back on this one. Most who read my work know that even those with whom I seem to be the most friendly can fall victim to my wagging finger when they deserve it. This is one of those times for so many reasons.

First, check out my write-up yesterday of the Times piece Kornell shared. It uses an example from a city clear across the country to show a potential financial boondoggle. But the Seattle program was run by an outside company. In the very last quote of the article it’s pointed out that perhaps it would be more successful if Seattle had owned its own program.

That’s exactly what St. Pete is planning.

So there’s the first problem. You’re linking to an article making a case against a program when the comparison isn’t even relevant.

But then there’s also Kornell’s complaint that bike share being a “top priority” over issues like expanding BRT. Transit is handled, and funded, through the – what’s that thing called? – transit agency.

Now does that mean the city can do absolutely nothing to further transit initiatives? Of course not. The city funds the Central Avenue Beach Trolley and theoretically could expand trolley services to other areas. But the city is able to recoup a ton of money by giving tourists staying on the beach a way to easily visit downtown. That same economic benefit may not be as available.

I spoke with Kornell about this and he’s got some good ideas. Increasing bus service for the Skyway Marina District and Midtown should be a priority and he thinks the city can and should take the reigns on that. And he said it’s not that he’s against bike share, it’s just that he doesn’t think it should take priority over expanding transportation options in areas where some of the city’s most transportation-challenged live.

But bike share is a transit option St. Pete can control, fund and implement. And to think it’s somehow a slight to other transit options is simply, well, tone deaf.

And some of the comments on Steve’s post kind of prove that.

“I look at it as an opportunity to start a trend toward a more sustainable community and I think that is valuable,” wrote Andrea Leavitt-Anderson.

One resident, Rob Bocik, pointed out that an insurgence of bikes along Beach Drive wouldn’t work out so well, but he was quickly shut down.

“The idea that is working in Tampa with its BikeShare program is that the more cyclists that drivers see on the road, the more they’ll respect their legal right to share those roads with cars and trucks,” wrote Phil Compton of the Sierra Club.

Elizabeth Erhardt wrote that the bike share program in Washington D.C. seems to be doing just fine. The racks containing the rentable bikes are often empty.

Mayor Kriseman’s chief of staff chimed into the conversation pointing out that the mayor can multitask.

“We’re doing it all. Transit improvements across city. Bike share is one small component and about quality of life. It’s popular and successful across America. No reason we can’t provide our residents and visitors with it,” King wrote.

There were some commenters who agreed with Kornell’s sentiment though. Several pointed out that there are better things the city can spend money on – particularly the funds awarded through the BP oil spill settlement – instead of bike share.

Now, if Kornell were running for re-election, which he’s not anymore, this would not be cause to call for his removal from office, but it is moderately concerning that he would link to a story that’s entirely irrelevant and then suggest transit improvements that are best handled by the county’s transit agency.

Bike share is a $1.5 million endeavor with $500,000 each coming from parking fees, transportation impact fees and BP oil spill settlement money so whether or not that money should be spent is a valid question and an important conversation.

Let’s just make sure the conversation is comprised of facts and relevant info.

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 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

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