Q&A: Joey Redner, Cigar City Brewing founder takes on pedestrian safety

There is much discussion concerning pedestrian and cyclist safety in Hillsborough County in 2017, but when it comes to actually "walking the walk'' on the streets of Tampa, in addition to contributing to all the traffic safety talk, Joey Redner puts in the mileage -- and he has the stats to prove it.

The Cigar City Brewing Founder uses the Samsung Step Counter app to track his daily walks around his West Tampa neighborhood, logging on average 7.5 miles per day. As a Tampa resident, business owner and frequent pedestrian, himself, Redner is a vocal advocate for better-connected local communities that feature more walkable, cyclist-friendly streets.

Redner speaks with 83 Degrees about the Tampa Bay area's potential to cultivate a more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly culture, and addresses the challenges we face as a community.

83 Degrees: You own motor vehicles, but you make the choice to walk -- on average -- around 14,000 steps per day. Why, and where, do you prefer to walk in Tampa? 

Joey Redner: I do most of my work while I'm walking -- it's why my step counts are so high.  For me, walking is almost therapeutic. It helps me concentrate and think. I think it's just because I'm kind of an energetic person. It lets me burn off some of my nervous energy so that I can concentrate better.

If I know I'm going to be answering a lot of emails or having a phone conversation where I need to be actively paying attention to know details, rather than paying close attention to the road, I'll walk in neighborhoods where I know there are sidewalks that keep me out of traffic.

83D: Traffic safety discussions about pedestrian fatalities and injuries often focus on changing motorist behaviors. What about changing pedestrian behaviors or unsafe practices?

JR: Pedestrians and cyclists do engage in unsafe behaviors. Just as drivers do, they speed, they roll stop signs, they don't use crosswalks. 

But I think a great majority of the time, it's because the infrastructure that's in place encourages them to [engage in those behaviors]. They don't have a clearer path to take. If your next crosswalk is a half mile away, you're probably going to take the path of least resistance.

As motorists, we need to understand that we are piloting a 3,500-pound vehicle that is capable of doubling its mass because of speed. The pedestrian is always going to be the vulnerable party.

83D: How would you rate the walkability of your neighborhood and the area around Cigar City Brewing? Does the brewery get much pedestrian traffic? 

JR: A lot of residential buildup has occurred in the last four or five years [near C.C.B.]. Now, we get a lot of people walking to the brewery because they live within half a mile.

I would say that the immediate area between Lois Avenue and Spruce Street is actually one of the more walkable areas in town. Because it's a new development, they've applied a lot of newer pedestrian technology. The sidewalks are even and straight, and set back a safe distance from the road.

But then there are large gaps between Lois and Dale Mabry, creating a long distance you have to walk if you want a crosswalk -- and people decide they don't want to wait, and cross the street at any point, quite often. That's where design flaw results in pedestrians making dangerous decisions.

83D: Both the craft beer and bike communities have seen growth in the Tampa area in recent years. Do you find that craft beer and the cycling scene have much overlap?

JR: I got the idea to launch [Cigar City Brewing] because of visiting other cities around America with vibrant brewery scenes. 

It tends to be that the people who gravitate toward craft beer tend to also gravitate toward being cyclists, or walking instead of driving. It's part of the culture -- maybe to exercise off the beer! Whatever the reason, there seems to be a heavy overlap between people who are very active and craft beer drinkers.

So I saw a lot more cyclists in those cities where I saw a lot of craft beer -- as opposed to seeing a lot of vehicle drivers.

With repeated exposure to neighborhoods like that, I started comparing how pedestrians and traffic work there -- and how the city as a whole works. What I was paying attention to was not just the beer: I realized that how people are getting from Point A to to Point B is a big part of what makes a city.

83D: What cities really stood out to you for their walkability and bike-friendliness? What are those cities doing right?

JR: In other cities, there's a much more harmonious relationship between pedestrians and vehicles. I think it has a lot to do with the emphasis put on the understanding that the driver has a lot more power in that situation. Most of these cities also have more robust public transportation.

In the U.S., Denver is really good -- especially for cyclists. In Europe, Copenhagen was really impressive. They deal with high levels of both cars and bikes, and pedestrians, very well. 

I think Denver's infrastructure is not perfect. They don't have separated bike lanes, for instance, but their level of education regarding driver awareness of bicyclists is much higher there than it is here.

83D: What can Tampa do to improve?

JR: I've noticed that the idea of making the driver of the vehicle aware of pedestrians, and to be watching for them, is a lot more prevalent in other cities than it is here.

Education is two-fold. There needs to be better driver education and pedestrian education. I think one thing you can do, without struggling to get government entities behind you, is to try to reach out to both sides and say, 'look, these are the conflict areas. Be more aware -- as drivers and pedestrians -- by doing these things,' and teaching better behavior.

Ultimately, though, you're still going to have conflict areas if infrastructure is poor. Pedestrians will be in more harm than necessary if you're building without them in mind.

First, I think we need to educate. The second phase is that we need to fix things, on a design level, that are not conducive to harmonious pedestrian-vehicle interaction. The end result is that two modes of transport are getting along better -- so you have more livable neighborhoods. I truly believe the more walkable you make a neighborhood, the cooler that neighborhood will be.

83D: How do you feel about the Vision Zero plan to address pedestrian and cyclist safety in Hillsborough County?

JR: I'm very actively here for Vision Zero. Much of that comes from my personal experiences. Being out in it a lot, just by nature of how I like to work, I'm more exposed to it. I spend a lot more time as a pedestrian on Tampa streets than the average person, statistically, because I walk a lot more than the average person.

Because I walk a lot, I see the stress points Vision Zero is talking about. I see areas where, instead of working in harmony, pedestrians and vehicle traffic are in conflict.

83D: What do you consider Vision Zero Hillsborough's greatest challenge to be in improving the culture of bicycle and pedestrian safety on Tampa area streets? 

JR: I am more hesitant to ride a bike in Tampa than to walk. Walking, I can keep myself away from traffic a little easier. I bike less because I've almost been hit so many times that I prefer to walk.

It's a bit of a 'chicken or the egg' concept: if you have more cyclists on the road, you, as a driver, are better prepared or educated, and more used to it -- and thus safer driving behavior is part of the culture. 

But here, [the challenge is]: when and how are we going to get that volume of pedestrians and cyclists on the roads? When it's safer for them.

Read more stories about Vision Zero in 83 Degrees.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.