Situated in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, the USGS science center is surrounded by culturally rich museums, academic institutions, and various restaurants; however, most sites and attractions seem to be just out of walking reach during the lunch hour. With community bicycles available, employees can enjoy the convenience of traveling to their destination in a short time, while avoiding the hassles and expenses of driving and parking.
The idea for USGS community bikes began in Massachusetts. "While visiting the USGS office in Woods Hole, I observed that community bikes were offered to employees to travel locally," said Victor Levesque, a hydrologist with the USGS Tampa and Ft. Myers offices. "So, while walking around the downtown area [St. Petersburg], I thought it would be cool to have a pool of community bikes to help USGS people here get around locally."
Shortly thereafter, Levesque stumbled upon several unused bikes that were collecting dust in the St. Petersburg center's stairwell. "Two belonged to Terry Kelley, USGS marine operations manager, who donated them for the purpose of providing an alternative mode of transportation," said Levesque. After some critical maintenance, such as the installation of new tires, tubes, and chain grease, the bikes were ready for employees' general use. "It takes more time to drive somewhere downtown and find a place to park than it does to just hop on a bike and ride there," said Sanford, a USGS research assistant. Sanford, who recently donated his car to charity and depends on his bicycle for transportation, thinks the community-bike idea is fantastic.
Two bicycles adorned with green-and-white USGS stickers are part of the center's fleet of community-use Recyclabikes. Upgrades and improvements, such as baskets, will provide more convenience as employees use them to go out for lunch, run errands, attend meetings at nearby institutions, or simply explore. Another benefit is healthy exercise! "There are so many great places in the St. Petersburg area, and it's good to have these community bikes to enjoy the city," said Levesque.
Levesque and Sanford hope that more bicycles will become available and generate greater usage. "We already have a pretty good contingent of people cycling to work every day," said Sanford. "It will be great for people to have the option of riding a bike instead of driving their cars, especially for short trips to grab lunch, get to the post office, or attend a lecture at the USF campus next door."
With beautiful weather year round, the coast just a short journey away, and an expanding network of public bike lanes, St. Petersburg is a place where bicycling is not only practical but also pleasant. More people are recognizing the advantages of riding a bike as an alternative to driving a car.
"With the growing popularity of bicycles, especially in this community, we are working to organize a 'Ride to Work Day' for employees working within the C.W. Bill Young Marine Science Complex in St. Petersburg," said Ann Tihansky, a USGS hydrologist who works in science communications. "Scientists are aware of many environmental issues associated with urban environments. I think we could use our community bike fleet to raise awareness and get even more people riding."
In a culturally rich, socially aware city, the USGS hopes to be a community leader in promoting activities that are helpful and healthful for both people and the environment. But don't forget to Be Safewear your helmet when taking a Recyclabike out for a spin!
About the author: Matthew Cimitile holds a B.A. in history from the University of Tampa and is obtaining an M.A. in environmental journalism from Michigan State University. He spent part of summer 2008 gaining experience in science communications by working with Ann Tihansky in the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center, St. Petersburg.
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