Pedaling the post
Neither rain nor dogs nor lack of parking places will deter these intrepid letter carriers from their appointed rounds.
By ANDREA CHANG
Published September 17, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Chris Hubble used to drive an old jeep to deliver mail in Tampa. One day about 10 years ago, he noticed a letter carrier on a route in St. Petersburg delivering mail on a bicycle.
"That's what I want to do," Hubble said.
So he applied for a transfer.
Now Hubble, 38, works as a letter carrier for the Open Air Station in St. Petersburg.
The downtown post office is the only station in Florida and one of a few in the country to deliver mail by bicycle, according to Open Air Station manager John Phelps.
A longtime bicyclist who rides with the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club, Hubble now delivers the mail perched atop a yellow bike owned by the United States Postal Service.
"I love it," he said. "The bike's the only way for me."
Phelps said the bikes have become a St. Petersburg tradition.
"It's novel and it's unique but to the people here that deliver, it's just a normal way of doing business," Phelps said. "They really don't see it as unique, they see it as the way it's always been done."
Carriers have used bikes since the Open Air post office opened in 1917, he said. Today there are 23 letter carriers using bicycles who range in experience from five months to 26 years. The station also has six vehicle routes.
Arizona is the only other state that puts letter carriers on bikes, according to Gary Sawtelle, spokesman for the Suncoast District of the United States Postal Service.
"This is really one of the unique places that has been able to hold onto this mode of delivery," Sawtelle said. "I think it's great that we're able to continue this tradition in St. Pete."
The Open Air Station delivers mail from 14th Avenue N to 17th Avenue S and from the water by the Pier to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.
The bike routes make delivering mail easier and more efficient in a city with narrow alleys, one-way streets and a shortage of parking, carriers said.
But mostly, they just love the freedom that comes with riding a bike.
"Just riding, with the wind blowing, it's nice," said Jackie Genes, 44, who has worked out of the Open Air Station for 14 years.
Others touted being able to get some sunshine and a workout while getting paid.
"For me, most importantly, I'm outside and I'm exercising," said Brent Brown, 42, whose wife works as a circulation retention manager with the St. Petersburg Times.
Brown, who brings a thermos and snacks to help him refuel during his long rides, also said the bikes are a great conversation piece.
"It's more personal on a bike," he said.
But the job isn't without its downsides. Bad weather, flat tires and nasty falls are all part of the job.
"Rain is fine - I don't mind," Genes said. "We do rain, but not lightning. The bike is nothing but a lightning rod."
Hubble said being outside in the heat of the summer for hours at a time isn't that bad.
"As long as you're moving, you have a nice breeze," he said.
Most said they'd experienced a few spills on their routes but nothing serious. The bikes are equipped with a large aluminum or canvas box to hold mail, making the bikes front-heavy.
"I tipped the bike a couple times," said Chris Kenney, 29. "All the mail splattered. That was pretty memorable."
Many carriers said they wouldn't go back to driving a regular mail truck.
"When I first came down here, I was like, 'You got to be kidding me, I got to ride a bicycle?' " Genes said.
But the bike grew on her.
"I like it now," she said. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Andrea Chang can be reached at email@example.com or 727 893-8760.
[Last modified September 16, 2006, 20:17:36]
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