I've been living in the Tampa Bay area for a number of years now, having moved here for graduate school. When I first got to town, I was excited to live in a place where I could ride my bike for most of my daily needs - the grocery store, restaurants and bars, music and the movies are all very close by. I realized very quickly however, that this is Car Country. Five years ago, I was one of the few to show up for a drink on a bicycle, and I paid the price in judgmental stares, as if I was something less than those who drove. The area has begun to wake up from it's backward-thinking slumber, as more and more people can be seen biking our city streets.
Sadly, this change has not come quickly enough. Just last week, the Tampa Bay area saw its 12th bicycle fatality in less than a year. This latest tragedy appears to have been the result of a car race down a busy street very close to the campus of the University of South Florida. It appears to be a trend. Late last year, a researcher from the university was struck and killed while biking home from the lab one night. A friend of mine was hit last year as well, but luckily walked away with only a few bruises.
Still, Car Culture prevails. This string of bicycle accidents has resulted in some press, some mobilization of small activist groups, and little else. Many people have commented that bikes shouldn't even be on the road, and openly display their disdain for bicyclists. Even the University has been loathe to act, only providing a few poorly advertised and poorly attended bicycle safety events. The idea that the roads are primarily for cars and cars first seems to be deeply rooted here, and the new Governor's threat to halt the funding for rail programs only contributes to such thinking - and such a reality.
As an observer of all this road-related mayhem, I have been thinking about what could be possible in such a situation. The local governments are slow to do anything to improve bicycle safety on the roads - most of which do not have bike lanes, even around the university. The university appears content to let its students risk their lives on the roads everyday. And the local culture seems to worship the Car as having god-given rights to the road. In times like these, it takes small groups of activists to take matters into their own hands - to make change.
This is just what happened in Mexico City, where the roads are equally, if not more dangerous than the streets in the Tampa Bay area. A group of dedicated cyclists got together and created their own bike lanes. They did not wait for the city government to get it done. They did not wait for the university to step up and pressure local government. They went out and made change. Check out the video below - and take notes Tampa Bay!