Friday, November 19, 2021

My Project Proposal: Stop the Steal!

I attended my second Gainesville-Alachua County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board meeting last night (what should have been the second and third were canceled, one due to some kind of "multiple moving parts scheduling anomaly," one for lack of quorum). Made it just in time, as I found out 90 minutes before the meeting that instead of riding in a car as expected I'd be pedaling a bicycle. Made it there and back (20 miles or so) with battery power to spare even though I used "pedal assist" most of the way there and battery power alone much of the way home (I did bring my charger to top off the battery during the meeting).

What happened at the meeting? Nothing of direct consequence.

The board's job is to advise the City of Gainesville Commission, the Alachua County Commission, and the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization "on all matters concerning planning, implementation, and maintenance of policies, programs, and facilities for the safe and efficient integration of bicycle and pedestrian transportation into the Gainesville Metropolitan Area and Alachua County transportation systems."

That generally takes the form of looking at proposals from MTPO and recommending or not recommending them to the other two bodies mentioned. MTPO's decks are apparently cleared of pending proposals at the moment, for the reason that it recently got funding for a large backlog of previous proposals and is busy doing things instead of proposing things.

The main agenda item had to do with proposals from board members for projects, and I offered one that, I think, will be followed up on. It doesn't get into "mandate" or "condition" territory. For one thing I didn't intend it that way. For another, the board is advisory and has no such powers.

It may verge on Cass Sunstein "nudge" territory, which I'm not terribly comfortable with, but I don't really think so. And so far as I know it uses existing funding for one thing rather than for something else, rather than dipping into the taxpayer till for more.

The problem it addresses: Bicycle theft.

There seems to be a lot of that around here. I had a bicycle stripped within a few feet of a major roadway during a high traffic period a few years ago. When I asked, virtually everyone on the board agreed that they'd had bikes, or parts of bikes, stolen. Yesterday, my neighbor mentioned a local TV news story (which I'll be looking for today) on a large upswing in thefts of, specifically, electric bikes (unsurprising, since they're expensive, especially the batteries).

One solution, in my view, is encouraging business owners to provide sturdy, well-lit, bicycle parking in high-traffic areas of their establishments. Some of them do, some of them don't.

One exemplar of "do" is my local Walmart. The bicycle parking is near front doors, in a spot that their private security vehicle seems to drive by every few minutes.

One exemplar of "don't" is a shopping center where a business I used to patronize -- a gym -- is located. When I inquired as to why a gym, for the love of Pete had no bike parking, the manager told me they'd been waiting for months for the shopping center owners to approve a bike rack (I don't know if other businesses in the center had ever asked, but there was a LOT of bike traffic there, and the bikes were locked to trees, traffic signs, etc.).

How to implement the solution? Dekova Batey, the BPAB staff liason, suggested that a bit of the existing "outreach" budget might be used to throw a card or brochure into the packets that builders/developers receive when they start the tortuous process of getting permission to build something -- government planning, zoning, permitting, etc.

The card or brochure would just point out that Gainesville is a big bicycle town and that making bike owners feel comfortable that they can shop without coming out of the store a good deal poorer than they went in because they're minus their bikes, might make business sense.

To be 100% clear -- BPAB wouldn't be recommending that any rule or requirement be added to the gummint permission process. Just a suggestion that, to my mind, is as innocuous as would be a card mentioning that the University of Florida's colors are blue and orange and that signage in those colors might attract Gators fans as customers.

What do you think?

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