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Healthy Air for Florida

Hands Across the Sand Event May 18 at Noon We are once again teaming up with local environmental groups like the Urban Paradise Guild, to make a point. Tar sands, natural gas, coal, and oil. For every type of dirty fossil fuel we use, there is an equally nasty and destructive way of getting it out of the ground and into our environment. Thatís why this Saturday we'll stand together on sandy beaches and lakefronts from Pensacola to Miami to send a clear message to our leaders that we wonít allow fossil fuels to wreck our planet.

Now more than ever our voices count. Right now, President Obama is considering whether to permit the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry tar sands oil all the way from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. Top scientists say the tar sands are "game over" for the climate.

May 18 at noon, in more than 25 places around Florida, we join hands to protect our environment. Come to 5th Street on Miami Beach (drive to 501 Ocean Drive). We will join with members of the Urban Paradise Guild out on the sands. In four short years, Hands Across the Sand/Land has grown into a global movement. Now it's your turn to join this powerful grassroots movement to take on climate change by taking a stand against dirty fuels and embracing clean energy.
- Phil Compton, Regional Representative, Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign

Green Transportation for Tampa Bay

Residents of the Tampa Bay area love where they live. The area is flush with cultural and educational institutions, its beaches consistently rank among the best in the U.S., and the region boasts an extensive network of parks. In 2008, Forbes ranked Tampa as the 5th-best outdoor city in the country.

But one area where the region lags is public transportation. "The Tampa Bay region is the last major metro area in the U.S. without a multi-modal transportation system," says Sierra Club organizer Phil Compton. "As a result, we're too dependent on cars, making tailpipe emissions the primary local source of carbon and ozone."

The metro area suffers from chronic traffic congestion, very long commute times, Florida's worst air quality, the country's highest proportional expense for transportation, and its most dangerous streets for bicycles and pedestrians.

Enter the Sierra Club's Green Transportation for Tampa Bay campaign, which scored a major victory when the Pinellas County Commission voted 5-1 to place transit funding on next year's ballot. The initiative would raise the local sales tax by one cent to fund the construction and operation of a new light-rail line while doubling the frequency and routes of bus service throughout the entire county.

Phil Compton

Immediately after the Pinellas vote, county commissioners in neighboring Hillsborough County scheduled a transit summit for its March meeting to get busy on a similar transit initiative. Hillsborough County is home to the city of Tampa; Pinellas County is home to St. Petersburg and Clearwater, which would be linked by the Pinellas County light-rail line.

The events represent a 180-degree swing from 2010, when anti-transit forces defeated a transit referendum in Hillsborough County. But since then, Sierra Club activists with the Suncoast and Tampa Bay groups, along with progressive ally Awake Pinellas, have tirelessly promoted a transportation vision for the region, showing up and speaking at hearings, lobbying decision-makers, educating the public, and mobilizing support for transit. Their efforts are now paying off.

Jim Shirk

Florida Green Transportation Team leader Jim Shirk talks about the connection between transportation and Tampa's air quality problems at the Clean Air Fair, held in downtown Tampa in May 2012. "The movement in Pinellas County to create the first light rail in the area can be the beginning of an enormous regional transit system," Compton says. "Thanks to the Sierra Club's campaign, there is now reason to hope that decades of delay and defeat will end next year for this region of 2.2 million people who suffer daily from one of America's worst urban transit systems. Many people thought this turn of events was unlikely after the events of 2010, but the Sierra Club team really turned things around."

Sierra Club Tampa Bay Chair Marcia Biggs spends her play money wisely
as she invests in her top transit priorities at a public transportation workshop, held jointly by the
Suncoast Sierra Club and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Transit supporters packed the house at the January 23 meeting of the Pinellas County Commission to recommend putting the transit referendum on the November 2014 ballot. Transit naysayers had previously dominated the conversation at meetings of the county's transit authority board and county commission, but that changed ended with a critical meeting in June 2012, now called "the turning point for the future of transportation for the Gulf Coast of Florida" by the transit authority chair.

Plans by Tea Party-supported commissioners to eliminate light rail from the county's transit plan were derailed as Sierra Club activists and allies packed the house that day and at all subsequent meetings when decisions were made on whether to move the process forward.

Tim Martin of Awake Pinellas preps over 100 supporters of green transportation (picture left) before a key transit authority vote. Awake Pinellas and the Sierra Club worked together over an 8-month period to create a huge turnout at every important transit meeting, overwhelming the efforts of transit opponents who sought to prevent green transportation initiatives from moving forward.

The pro-transit movement in the Tampa Bay area received a boost in December with the creation of Connect Tampa Bay, a new transportation education and advocacy group that is now working hand-in-hand with the Sierra Club to promote a 21st-century transit vision for the region and turn that vision into reality at the ballot box.

Tim Martin

Activists Kofi Hunt and Lauren Reilly at last summer's Hands Across the Sand event to move the Forida Gulf Coast beyond oil by supporting the creation of green transit and energy options that will allow residents and tourists alike to get around the Tampa Bay area without using so much oil.

"While plans for rail, rapid bus and 'complete streets' transportation improvements have been discussed for decades," Compton says, "it took the involvement of Sierra Club's Green Transportation for Tampa Bay campaign to organize the support needed for leaders to find the political will to finally move these plans into action. And it's time. Most people want this to move forward. They want the same choices as people have elsewhere in America."

For more information or to volunteer in this campaign, contact

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