Coast Bike Share rolls onto Tampa streets

Watch out for baby blue bicycles! Tampa's long-awaited bike share program from Coast Bike Share is cruising into downtown.

On Nov. 17 a ribbon-cutting and a "founding membership" launch begins at 10 a.m. in Ybor City at Centennial Park, located at 1800 8th Ave. Founding members are the cycling pioneers who pay an annual fee of $99 for extra riding time daily, and a free helmet. They will have access to 30 rental kiosks scattered around the city from downtown to Ybor City to Water Works Park to Davis Islands.

Founding memberships are on sale through Dec. 6.

Everyone else gets access to bike share on Dec. 7 when a kick-off party at 10 a.m. at Water Works Park will include food trucks, live music and an escorted ride through downtown. All bikes are welcome.

The computer-activated rental system is user friendly with easy prompts to register for a ride and unlock the bicycle. Some recommended routes include the McKay Bay Greenway or the Tampa Riverwalk with stops at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Ulele restaurant.

Rental hubs also are located along Grand Central Avenue near the Oxford Exchange and Mis en Place, along Franklin Street from Old Water Street to Cass Street, and on Swann Avenue in Hyde Park. Students at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City, and residents at ENCORE! Tampa’s urban village, north of downtown, have easy access to pedal power.

We've arrived!

Tampa is easing into the kind of urban bicycle experience more familiar to cities such as Portland, Phoenix and San Francisco. But the anticipation has been noticeable.

"I {couldn't]  go anywhere without someone asking when it starts," says Eric Trull, program manager for Coast, the bike share's operator.

Leading up to the launch, daily demonstrations at key points around the city are providing tutorials in the ways and means of bike share rentals. 

Coast's bicycles can be rented for $5 an hour or via memberships for $30 a month and $79 a year. A founding membership for $99 comes with 90 minutes of ride time per day instead of the standard 60 minute ride, and a free helmet.

To find a kiosk or reserve a bike, visit Coast Bike Share on Facebook. Signing up requires downloading a smart phone app through Social Bicycles. The app allows photo uploads, checks on road conditions and maps to plan out routes. City officials plan to use suggestions from bike users on where new kiosks can be located.

Residents at the The Slade in the Channel District are enthusiastic following a demonstration. Right now a rental hub is about three blocks away. "We're working on getting a hub closer to them," says Kiera Andrews, community manager for Coast.

The student population also is interested. "It was a really good response from students (at Hillsborough Community College) as they walked to and from classes," Andrews says.

Davis Islands resident Rodney Johnson rides his own bicycle but a bike share rental could become a strategic choice for special events with limited parking options.

"Anything we can do toward the goal of easing congestion and encouraging more exercise is good," Johnson says. He does worry, however, about bike safety and the potential for accidents.

Be safe out there!

The City of Tampa and the Tampa Downtown Partnership are working together to present a series of bike safety classes through Nov. 20. The classes generally begin at 6:30 p.m. at various recreation centers and parks. Also, upcoming events are at Kahwa Coffee on Ashley Drive on Nov. 12 and Duckweed Urban Market on Nov. 20.

For complete details visit Tampa Bay Cycle’s website. The hour-long classes are free and participants receive a helmet, light set or vest.

Advertising opportunities also are available for small businesses and other organizations that want to sponsor a bicycle kiosk. 

As the program expands, Coast officials anticipate adding kiosks in the SoHo district, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Westshore.
Seminole Heights neighborhood resident Myron Griffin looks forward to greater neighborhood connections through a city network of walking and biking trails. Expanded bike share hubs push that idea forward.

"Tampa Heights, that's a no-brainer because it is right there (by downtown) and has Riverwalk coming," says Griffin who is chairman of the green space and arts and beautification committees for the Green Artery.

The grassroots group supports construction of a perimeter trail encircling the city with greenways and paths that link neighborhoods in all corners of the city. Future walking and cycling opportunities - and rental hubs - are on the city's drawing board including a West River Trail from downtown to Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, and the East-West Green Spine from Homer Hesterly Armory (future site of the Jewish Community Center South Campus) in West Tampa to Cuscaden Park in V.M. Ybor. 

"I see this as a freeway for bicyclists and pedestrians from downtown to the University of South Florida and bringing Temple Terrace into the mix," Griffin says.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer living in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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