Cyclists heading to downtown Tampa don’t need to worry about locking up their bikes while attending events at Curtis Hixon Park or other nearby venues. All that cyclists need to do now is check their bicycles in at Tampa Bike Valet
, an innovative service launched by Tampa entrepreneur Christine Acosta.
Her business works much like an automobile valet operation; one simply rides a bicycle up to the valet area and lets the attendant park the bike in a secure waiting area. Once the cyclist is ready to pick up the bike, he or she summons the valet to return the cycle.
“It’s like a coat check, only for your bike,” laughs Acosta, who has been a member of the cycling community for years and felt there was a need for such a service in the Tampa Bay area. “A lot of things have happened in the past couple years here, including the opening of the Riverwalk, which has been a game changer for Tampa,” she says. “We’re also seeing more bike lanes, trails and other places for bikers to get around town.”
Acosta, originally from Denver, says these improvements have meant more local cyclists are feeling inspired to ride their bikes to work and for leisure than before, and thus there is a need for bikers to have a safe place to store their bikes while at their destination. “Once you check your bike in, we’ll provide a claim check -- then you go have fun. When you’re done, you come pick your bike up.”
According to Stacy Weisfeld, a transportation planner at HDR, Inc.
in Washington, D.C., bike valet services may not be novel for much longer.
“I think bike valets will eventually be typical amenities for many events and become a normal consideration during event planning processes,” she says.
Weisfeld, who wrote her thesis on bike valet services while earning her masters in community planning at the University of Maryland, has ridden bikes her entire life and interned with a bicycle advocacy organization in Columbus, Ohio. “Congestion and vehicle parking is becoming more and more of an issue for many cities during large events, and encouraging people who bike, the harder it is to find legal bike parking, versus locking your bike to a street sign,” she says.
Tampa Bike Valet Founder Acosta believes her service is a great alternative to locking a bicycle up against a sign post or on a standard bike rack, given the rising number of bicycle thefts in the City of Tampa. Local police have hundreds of bicycles waiting in impound lots, but many can’t be returned to their owners because the bikes were not registered to their owners. “We are working with the City of Tampa Police
to register bikes,” Acosta says.
Role models in other cities
While Tampa Bike Valet is a new concept for the Tampa Bay Area, it isn’t the only service of its kind in the country. Acosta says she studied about a dozen similar, volunteer-based bike valet services before starting her own service, which is paid for by event coordinators and other sources mainly in the private sector.
At least two bike valet businesses exist elsewhere in the United States: one in Portland, Oregon, and another in Washington, D.C. The latter is where Jonathan Weidman runs Two Wheel Bike Valet Service
. He has been enlisted by Acosta to come to Tampa and provide backup service during a few events during busy months.
“Christine has partnered with us to provide material, logistical and staff support,” says Weidman. “We’ll bring our racks for a series of events that Tampa Bike Valet will operate, and I’ll be helping to operate a couple other events.”
Weidman, who had never visited Tampa before, says he is excited to see what the bicycle infrastructure is like in the Bay Area. “I think Tampa has an incredible advocate in Acosta. She’s energetic and she really sees the big picture.”
Acosta, who refers to herself as “chief principal over-user of exclamation points,” was inspired to begin cycling as a way to get healthier upon seeing the struggles of her diabetic father. She has been a cyclist now for several years and says Tampa has come a long way in better supporting the local cycling community. “But there’s still a long way to go,” she adds.
“We are still lagging in transportation options,” says Acosta. “HART [the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority
] is growing quickly, but [their buses] won’t necessarily pick you up at your front door and drop you off right where you’re going. That’s why cycling is a great option for first-mile and last-mile transit,” she asserts, noting the transportation gaps between a commuter’s point of origin, his or her destination, and the area(s) served by mass transit.
Acosta believes another key component of making the Tampa Bay Area a more attractive place for bicyclists is to advocate for additional bicycle safety initiatives. “I’m trying to change the culture in our city.”