ST. PETERSBURG — Drive around the city long enough and you start to notice small changes on its roads and streets: the widening of a bike lane by half a foot, reconfigured intersections, more bike racks in front of small businesses.
The man responsible for many of these changes is Lucas Cruse, St. Petersburg's bicycle pedestrian coordinator. He took over the job in 2014 from his current boss, transportation manager Cheryl Stacks.
Last year, St. Petersburg did not record a bike death for the second time in the last four years, according to data from the St. Petersburg Police Department. By this metric, bike safety has remained stable in the city during the last few years, with seven recorded bike fatalities since the start of 2012 after a particularly deadly year in 2011, when four bikers were killed.
Cruse believes more bikers on the road leads to safer riding conditions, because that way drivers become cognizant of the cyclists' presence. Projects to encourage biking in the city include the $1.5 million Coast Bike Share program, which launched in February after the city rolled out a demo version last November. The City Council also recently approved construction funding to add a bike lane on 30th Avenue N from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street to 58th Street.
We sat down with Cruse to discuss his job, bike riding in St. Petersburg and how he keeps the city safe. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What does your job entail on a day-to-day basis?
In general, my job involves roadway design. That includes when a road is being resurfaced, we look at how you could include bike facilities on there, or how to improve (existing) bike facilities. It also includes reviewing developments that come in. So, when someone's building a new building downtown, we review it for adequate bike parking, the lanes that pass by the building, sidewalk access — just how people interact with a building on foot or on bike.
We also have a program where we proactively install bike racks. I field calls, at least a few a week, of businesses asking for bike racks. I help them figure out their sites and where it could work, and schedule a time to get out there.
How to do you balance short-term needs with longer, more ambitious projects?
It's always switching back and forth. I find both of them rewarding. On one hand, the big picture policy stuff is essential; we need to keep working on it. But on the other hand, one of the things I like the most is working with a business owner to put bike racks up, because it's immediate and it makes a difference. It's very hands on. And same with little design tweaks in neighborhoods where a bike lane has an issue.
I guess that's kind of why I like local government. You get the big picture stuff, but it's also just very hands-on. I like that — I like the people who call in and say, 'Hey, I have this problem,' or 'Tell me why this is like this.' Being in this long enough, you realize that every block has a story. Why is a tree there, why is that garbage can here? Whatever it is that's there or not there, there's a story for why it is. I go all around the city and it's a mosaic of stories.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
There something about bicycling, that everyone has an opinion on it. You mention bicycling, and filters go away. It's just, 'Oh, I hate bicyclists' or 'I love it, I'm a cyclist!' It's that love-hate part that makes it engaging, but at the same time it doesn't turn off.
How often do you deal with what you view as misconceptions about bike safety?
All the time. Basically any time a crash happens, it's almost always reported as something that's unsafe.
The perception is an issue. The general thought nationwide is, the more people biking, the safer it is. Kind of the more it's expected, the more it's normalized, and it's not seen as just 'those bike people' doing it. People drive differently here than they do elsewhere. They're looking both ways at crosswalks because they know there's probably going to be someone stepping off the curb or a bicyclist coming. And so, it's one of those self-fulfilling things.
What do you like about the job?
I guess I'd say just the diversity of it. It can be detailed: the widths of a stripe and a half-foot of a lane, and getting into the weeds of that. And then it can also be answering the phone when someone calls and says, 'I had this problem with this guy on a bike,' and by the end of the conversation they're like, 'Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense.'
Do you have a way of measuring how widepsread bike riding is in the city?
The way I generally put it is, you can stand on any street corner in downtown St. Pete, and within a minute you're going to see at least one — or probably more — people on bike. They're everywhere, all the time.