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Bike lanes dropped from road project

Meridian Street plans call for a wide sidewalk instead, but cyclists say a roadside bike lane is much safer.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002


Plans to widen Meridian Street call for tall palms, oversized sidewalks and a path for bicycling, jogging and skating.

They don't include bike lanes.

The Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority dropped the lanes this month after engineers said it would be too dangerous to have bicyclists in the street.

The decision infuriated residents and cyclists who argue the lanes encourage cycling and reduce congestion. They want them reinstated in accordance with the neighborhood plan, which calls for bike lanes on any new and improved streets.

"We thought we were going to have bicycle lanes since 1999," said Kim Markham, a member of the Channel District Council and editor of its newsletter. "If you don't have the lanes, you'll have people riding in the streets."

The Meridian improvements are part of a massive project to expand the capacity of the Crosstown Expressway from Brandon to downtown Tampa. The authority is spending $315-million to build an 8-mile bridge in the median of the highway. Revenue from the tolls will cover the costs.

The bridge will have three "reversible" lanes that will change direction depending on the time of day. During the morning commute, the lanes will serve traffic going into downtown. During the afternoon commute, they will accommodate Brandon-bound traffic.

The authority is creating wide boulevards at each end to funnel traffic to and from the express lanes. Construction on the Brandon parkway began in August. Work on the bridge will start this summer, followed by construction on Meridian in 2003.

The road should be done by the end of 2004.

The authority bought land from CSX Railroad to expand Meridian from two to six lanes. It will have 20-foot-wide sidewalks and a 10-foot path on the west side for bikers, joggers and skaters. Drawings show decorative street lights and ponds, and a monument noting entry to downtown Tampa.

Authority spokeswoman PerryDawn Brown said bike lanes were included in the preliminary sketches, but were deleted in the final designs because of the safety concerns. Officials concluded the bike path several feet from the road would be less dangerous.

The speed limit on Meridian will be 30 or 40 mph.

Brown doubted the authority would change its position. Many of the neighborhood's suggestions have already been incorporated, she said.

"We're pretty deadlocked on this," she said. "It's not going to happen."

Avid bicyclists said the bike path works for families and recreational users, but not for commuters who want an unobstructed, fast route to and from downtown. Bikers will have to stop at the cross streets and ride in two-way traffic on the bike path. Instead, most will go on the road in traffic.

"Bike lanes clearly provide a safer place to ride," said Jim Fleming, chairman of the Hillsborough County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. "It's going to be a lot less safe without them."

In a letter to authority Director Pat McCue, Fleming said the Tampa Bay area has one of the worst records in the country for bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. He cited a lack of bike lanes as one of the reasons why.

Markham, a Channel District resident who drives on Meridian every day, said neighbors proposed shrinking the sidewalk to make room for the bike lanes, but the authority refused. She considers the decision a lost opportunity to make the area a better place to live and visit.

"There are no bike lanes anywhere in the Channel District," she said. "We're trying to build amenities that will attract downtown residential development."

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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