By: Karen Kress, AICP
Published by 83 Degrees
“Motivating, Safe, Scenic, Pleasant and Introspective” were the words my colleagues at the Tampa Downtown Partnership used to describe the new way they used to travel to work during Commuter Challenge 18.
I threw out the challenge to them thinking it was a long shot, but was pleasantly surprised when every one of our small team agreed to participate. I think we covered all the mode choices between us including bus, bike, walk, carpool and even telework (working from home). I was able to try them all myself throughout the week.
I have to admit it was pretty easy for me, but I “talk transportation” for a living so have a leg up. I already regularly carpool with my next door neighbor who also works downtown. I used to ride the bus pretty often and love how much extra time it gave me to read. I had the advantage of choosing between 3 routes so if I missed one it was a short wait for the next.
Although I love to ride my bike (and do frequently for quick trips around downtown), I find the 7-mile ride into work much more enjoyable than the return trip. The Heights really are uphill from downtown! I found that it takes me almost exactly as much time to bike as to use the bus. It is astonishing how many people I say good morning to when not driving solo in a metal box.
Growing up in suburban Ohio, I don’t remember even seeing a city bus. After college I moved to Boston and paid $27 a month for unlimited rides on their extensive “T” subway system. My car literally sat for weeks at a time. Parking downtown was astronomical and the culture seemed to be to take the train in, so that’s what I did.
Upon moving to Florida, my husband and I were a “one-car family” for about 1.5 years. He biked to grad school and I carpooled with a neighbor to my job. Twenty years later, we are fortunate to be able to afford two cars and can’t imagine how hard things would be managing our full-time jobs and the busy schedules of our 3 kids with only one.
We have worked hard at the Tampa Downtown Partnership to offer a variety of ways to move around downtown once there. We helped bring the Coast bikeshare and Zipcar carshare programs, placed over 200 bike racks, advocated for safer walk and bike conditions and raised the money to start the Downtowner free ride service. We offer free bike valet at most large public events and work closely with HART on improving downtown circulation. We even started a free guided walking tour program 10 years ago that teaches people interesting facts while demonstrating how safe and quick it can be to get there on foot.
Our growing number of downtown residents wants an urban experience of “live, work, play.” They are not paying premium rents or mortgages to have to drive their cars short distances. Although our mode choices aren’t perfect, I think people may be surprised that a HART bus route (with free wifi) may get them to work pretty easily or it might be as quick to bike into work as driving. With tight parking availability and rising prices there has never been a better time to explore options and experiment a bit. All the growth Tampa has experienced leads us to feel that we live in a “big city” now. Our travel behaviors also need to adapt.
I’d like to thank Plan Hillsborough for their leadership and inspiration in spearheading Commuter Challenge 18 during the week of Feb. 19-23. As a Planning Commissioner and employee of the nonprofit dedicated to improving downtown, I was thrilled to participate.