Growing bike culture through vision and leadership in St. Pete
Note from the League: As Director of the Bicycle Friendly America program, I get to work with local advocates and entrepreneurs all over the country who have a profound impact on their local community. I first met Christine in 2014, just after Tampa had received Honorable Mention in the Bicycle Friendly Community program. She noticed that Tampa’s BFC Report Card highlighted the fact that her city had zero Bicycle Friendly Businesses, a number she wanted to change. She founded Pedal Power Promoters, a social enterprise supporting local bicycle initiatives, and worked with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to help local businesses become bicycle-friendly through the BFB program. As a result of Christine’s work, Tampa has gone from having zero BFBs to 28 in just three years, a transformation that has been incredible to watch. The city is now ranked sixth in the nation for communities with the most Bicycle Friendly Businesses! Her work also helped move the needle to getting Tampa up from Honorable Mention to Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community status in 2016, and ranked among Bicycling magazine’s 50 Best Bike Cities for the first time.
Now, Christine is partnering with a “dream team” in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she’s aiming to have a similar impact. Read on to learn how Christine and the St. Pete Dream Team are doing it.
At the 2018 National Bike Summit, Christine was awarded the Susie Stephens Joyful Enthusiasm Award for the passion she brings to her work.
— Amelia Neptune, Bicycle Friendly America Director
(The author with mayor Rick Kriseman on Bike to Work Day)
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the focus on greater sustainability and resiliency has never been more important in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fortunately, growing active transportation has been underway for years, and now the makings of an outstanding local Bicycle Friendly Business program are in place: vision, leadership, teamwork and business champions.
On Bike to Work Day earlier this year, Mayor Rick Kriseman launched St. Pete’s local BFB effort as part of the Healthy St. Pete initiative. “Biking is good for workers, good for businesses, good for neighborhoods, good for sustainability and good for the City,” he announced in May.
Having support from the Mayor’s office obviously strengthens this effort, but what really makes this an exceptional program? First, the motivation: health and wellness are the driving force for St. Pete’s BFB plan, as part of the city’s Healthy St. Pete program. Secondly, the city assembled a dream team to design, implement, and oversee it. Not only is each member highly motivated and knowledgeable, they represent the ideal combination of key disciplines: economic development, marketing, parks and recreation, and of course, a rock star transportation expert, Lucas Cruse.
Two early business adopters, Black Crow Coffee and Pinellas Ale Works, received Silver Bicycle Friendly Business designations this summer. We now have more St. Pete businesses following their lead, with 11 BFB applications in the queue for the League’s Fall 2017 deadline. (Editor’s note: October 11! Apply here.)
For local St. Pete businesses, being bicycle-friendly is an obvious fit. “The chamber and our members exude the culture of community that attracts the talent that will be the future of our economy. That talent wants accessibility and bikeable, walkable livability,” says Chris Steinocher, President and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Steinocher and Cal Webster, who chairs the Chamber’s Urban Mobility Sub-Committee, are leading the organization through the BFB application process. Steinocher gives this advice to Chamber member companies: “Businesses need to get educated, to fully understand what it means to be bicycle-friendly, and embrace the League’s tenets of education, engineering, encouragement and evaluation. They need to exude bike friendliness, and have the dialogue internally to connect it to their brand and company culture. Especially for attracting young talent in the downtown area; it’s a competitive advantage to attract talent if you say ‘we’re a bike-friendly business.’” Webster adds, “Biking is such a cool, efficient and healthy way to get around. My vision of our city in the future is fewer roads, more bikes, parks and autonomous vehicles.”
Steinocher appreciates that bikes take less space and cost developers significantly less to accommodate than cars. “The most expensive part of building anything downtown right now is parking. Imagine saying if you’re building here we don’t have parking requirements because half of our employees bike to work.”
Martha Boden, Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee Chair, decided early on she wanted to be a champion for bicycling in St. Petersburg and to create the first “BFB block.” Boden is the CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay, a non-profit animal shelter and public veterinary hospital located outside of St. Pete’s urban core, in an area poised for a renaissance. She recognized the value of embracing active transportation to support the area’s redevelopment and began educating and cajoling her business neighbors to join SPCA in pursuit of BFB certification. She encouraged combining company employees at LCI-led Smart Cycling education sessions, and coordinated the flow of information between businesses. “I want all six businesses on my block to get certified together!” she says.
Steinocher lauds Boden’s efforts, “her leadership to create the first BFB block has been amazing to watch. She was excited to have those conversations with all those businesses and to get them on board. She’s making others sit up and think ‘hey we want that too.’”
St. Pete has been a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community since 2006, and the new local BFB efforts are highlighted on the city’s renewal BFC application submitted earlier this fall. “We’re excited but not at all surprised that our Chamber and business community are embracing BFB certification,” says Lucas Cruse, the City of St. Petersburg’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. “Bicycling is in the DNA of St. Petersburg and the League’s certification program is a great way for businesses to both be recognized for their efforts and also learn how to take their bike friendliness to the next level.”
Christine Acosta is founder of Pedal Power Promoters, LLC, which assists communities and companies with bicycle-friendly initiatives and provides Bicycle Friendly Business consulting. She is also the executive director of Walk Bike Tampa.
To apply for bicycle-friendly recognition for your business, or to learn more about the BFB program, visit bikeleague.org/business.