May is National Bike Month! Established in 1956, National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling — and encourage more folks to give biking a try. Here at the Well, every month is bike month and we are so happy to see this national initiative to get more folks cycling. More bikes taking to the streets in Tampa will mean healthier neighbors, more connected and engaged communities, more investment in infrastructure for safer roadways, and hopefully less and less cars congesting our cities streets (and eventually less land wasted on parking lots). It may also mean some less exciting stuff too.
Florida, of all the 50 states, has the most cyclist fatalities per capita annually. Along with the rest of Florida's cities, Tampa, in particular has always been known as a dangerous place to ride bicycles. In 2010 the Tampa Bay area was listed in dead last, as in "the worst in the nation" for all commuters according to Forbes.com. Among other observations was "The roads are engineered almost exclusively for cars, and not for bicycles." We have been on a long and slow (as in the longest and slowest in the nation) journey toward becoming a more walk-able, bike-able and therefore livable city.
In the past three years, Tampa police have written 2,504 bike tickets — more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. Of those tickets, as was made known to the public by a recent TBT investigation, 8 out of 10 were issued to black folks. Tampa police are targeting poor, black neighborhoods and in addition to 8 out of 10 being black, 10 out of 10 are poor. Police say they are gung ho about bike safety and focused on stopping a plague of bike thefts. So by strictly enforcing obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars they are targeting poor, mostly black people in our neighborhood. "This is not a coincidence," said now retired Police Chief Jane Castor. "Many individuals receiving bike citations are involved in criminal activity." This is true and pulling over poor black neighbors is a great pretense to violate their fourth amendment rights with unreasonable searches to unearth their addictions and/or poverty AKA "criminal activity. It is also a great dragnet to run every poor and black persons name for outstanding warrants for things like failures to appear in court or failures to pay former fines from previous and similar interactions with police. Day after day we are seeing our communities canvased, to both clear our streets of these 'undesirables' to make way for our master plan of gentrification and to book and fingerprint as many as possible so as to build a data base, because c'mon, these people are gonna commit crimes.
Here at the Well we often discover best practices by trying to do the exact opposite of the city of Tampa. When Tampa rules that it is illegal to fall asleep in a public place like the park, we open our doors and offer couches for folks to get some rest. When the homeless are unwanted in just about every nook and cranny of this city we open our doors, our arms, and our lives to welcome with warm hospitality those who so desperately need a place to make themselves at home. When elsewhere they are despised as bums and jeered as lazy, here they are our friends and teachers and co-laborers.
So while the League of American Bicyclists is sponsoring May as National Bike Month, and while Tampa is a notoriously dangerous place to ride a bike in general ( and particularly if you are poor and black) we want to applaud our friends and neighbors, Tampa's poor, who are truly the most committed and dedicated of cyclists. Perhaps this came to be because they do not have cars, bus passes or other forms of transportation but there are, none the less, no other demographic in Tampa more faithfully committed, in spite of the challenges, to making Tampa a bike-able city.
We have watched countless friends who have built bikes here at our ReCycle bin end up being harassed by TPD because they did not have lights on their bikes, many of whom needlessly end up in jail. Many others have ended up in hospitals because Tampa is still a very hard place to be a cyclist. Just this week we got a bike donated that had a bent frame from being hit by a car, we recognized it because it had been built here and the owner, who is still recovering from his injuries, is a friend of ours.
Please help us make it possible for these cyclists to stay safe and legal. Would you please consider donating bike lights that may protect our friends from oncoming traffic as well as police harassment? Just two lights on each bike can make such a huge difference. So during this National Bike Month would you help us gather 1,000 bike lights to distribute to some of Tampa's most vulnerable cyclists?
You can drop lights off at our center at 3023 N Florida Ave or The Ybor Daily Market located at 1920 E 7th Ave.
Thank you all so much for your love and support.
Thank you all so much for your love and support.