TAMPA — Sunday morning marked the official start of Tampa’s Coast Bike Share bicycle rental program, and Mike Edgerly seemed as happy as the skies over Water Works Park were overcast.
The bike share was celebrated with an escorted morning ride through downtown followed by a lively event at the park, featuring live music by Tampa band The Tattered Saints, food vendors and lots of information about bicycles and bike safety.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn rides with police chief Jane Castor as he participates in the “Coast. Park. Play.” event to celebrate the launch of Coast Bike Share rentals in Tampa. The bikes are available for rental from stations in the downtown area and people can rent by the hour or through a membership program. JIM REED/STAFF –
Edgerly, who works in Ybor City, said he has long anticipated the bike program’s official launch.
“I plan on taking these (bikes) and riding to lunch and to do errands,” Edgerly said. “It beats trying to find parking in Ybor everyday. Last week, I rode to the Buccaneers game.”
As The Tattered Saints tore into a lively rendition of “Run, Run Rudolph,” bicyclists browsed food vendors Rollin’ Zoinks, Nico’s Arepas Grill, American Weiner and Small Batch Ice Cream.
Near a long row of sky-blue bikes, Eric Trull, Coast’s program director, showed people how the rental program works.
“Right now, we have just over 100 bikes available to the public,” Trull said. “We’ll be scaling it up as demand dictates, and we can go as many as 300 bikes” if needed.
Coast offers regular annual memberships for $79; monthly memberships for $30; or daily for $5. Those plans allow up to an hour’s use a day; the average bike-share trip is 14 minutes. Information about membership and other aspects of the program can be found at coastbikeshare.com.
Technology on the bikes allows riders to either swipe a card or punch in an account number, allowing them to unlock the bikes and go.
Coast’s bikes are now available around downtown, Hyde Park, Ybor City, Davis Island and the Channel district, but the program could expand to areas like West Shore and Seminole Heights.
Tampa is providing space on city rights of way, but taxpayers aren’t contributing to the project.
To Ken Sides, an engineer in Tampa, Coast’s launch was indicative of the city’s “transition from a backwater town to a happening place to be.”
Sides seemed most excited about the “connectivity” that the bike rental program can help residents realize.
“The fact that this event — and the park — has the support of (city) leadership is significant,” he said. “This is downtown finally breaking free to the north.’
As bicyclists browsed Coast’s line-up of bikes, Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez talked to passersby.
“We’re just trying to encourage more people to ride,” Suarez said. “It’s a great amenity in urban areas and a good way to get from one place to another.”
James Shirk, who chairs the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, touted the safety records of similar programs in other areas.
“There have been 23 million rentals and no fatalities since the start of bike-share programs in North America,” Shirk said. “The first one started in Montreal five years ago, and now there are programs in Washington, New York, Boston, Denver, San Francisco and Chicago.
“This is one of the links of public transportation. People always have the issue of making the last mile to or from their destination. If you work in Tampa, you can take the bus, then get off the bus and ride a bike the last mile. You can go to Ybor, then back to your office.”
Bike-related vendors on Sunday included Jamis Bicycles, City Bike Tampa, Tampa Bay Cycle, Seminole Heights Bicycle Club and Velo Champ.
Frank Parra, a University of South Florida engineering student, distributed bicycle and pedestrian safety information beneath a sign that read: “Safety doesn’t happen by accident.”
“We’re out here for USF’s Center for Urban Transportation and our research is sponsored by the Department of Transportation,” Parra said. “We do these all over the state. We were just in Miami at a NASCAR event. We do a lot of surveys about bicycle-motorist safety.”
Reporter Jerome R. Stockfisch contributed to this story.