Monday, March 19, 2007

Bike at the Risk of Death

This is a great article/commentary in the Tribune by Seminole Heights Alan Snel (Bike Stories blog). I am publishing in full so this topic gets full expsosure. I agree with Alan.

No Place For Safe Ride


Published: Mar 18, 2007

I was bicycling home from a meeting recently in Tampa when I heard the rumble of a HARTline bus behind me. Most bus drivers know to give a cyclist at least three feet of law-required buffer space when they pass.

But this bus nearly sideswiped me into oblivion. I felt the whoosh of the bus on my left shoulder and arm. The Route 12 Hartline bus came within a credit card's width of striking me. I was angry, and I could only shake my head at the irony of coaxing the city of Tampa just last year into installing "Share the Road" signs on this particular two-lane road - Rowlett Park Drive. This road had neither a shoulder nor a bike lane.

I asked myself as a bicyclist, what do I have to do to stay alive on the roads around here?

On this particular ride home, there were danger spots all over the place - debris at several intersections where I had to negotiate everything from glass to nails to pieces of metal; bike lanes (I was lucky to find one) that mysteriously end in mid-road; and the drivers who not-so-politely advised me to get off the road.

The bus nearly hit me while I was pedaling home from an afternoon meeting of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition, a group of community leaders and local police who fight drunk driving and underage drinking. The coalition includes a few Department of Transportation folks who also work on a local community traffic safety committee. One of the DOT folks is a pleasant woman who was stunned that I actually biked to this meeting, which was held at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino at Orient Road and Hillsborough Avenue.

You'd think that a local DOT person would say, "Hey, that's great that you're biking to meetings. One less car on the road."

Instead, I got, "That's crazy."

The fact this polite DOT woman told me it was "crazy" to bike to the meeting speaks volumes of how the folks who design and build around here feel about bicyclists.

What this nice DOT lady was actually saying was that it's dangerous to bike on the roads around here - a sad and indicting commentary when you consider she works for the state road agency that designs and builds those same roads.

No Safe Refuge
If you're in your 30s or older, do you remember how you got around when you were a kid? That's right. You hopped on your bike and pedaled to your friend's house or the store or the ball field.

But let me ask you this: Would you let your kids ride a bike on the roads around here? I thought so - you'd say the roads are too dangerous.

That's what people tell me when I meet them on the road while I bike. I bike more than 10,000 miles a year on the roads around the Tampa Bay area - everywhere from downtown Tampa to the rural roads of east Hillsborough County to the busy commercial roads of Pinellas County. You may strap on your car's seat belt and turn on your ignition. But I strap on my helmet and start turning my pedals. That's how I get around a lot of the time.

People who I meet when I'm biking tell me they want to bike, too. And many do bike - they just seek refuge on sidewalks - a place that's actually more dangerous because drivers usually don't expect a bicyclist crossing an intersection on the sidewalk.

But why are our roads here in the Tampa bay area - especially in Tampa and Hillsborough County - so inhospitable to bicyclists? I have lived here in Tampa for three years, and it is my assessment that little has been done on local roads to make me feel safer as a cyclist.

From my vantage point, the vast majority of elected political leaders, the transportation engineers and the officials who call the shots on designing, building and maintaining our roads seem to have an institutional bias against bicycles because their priority is building speedways for cars instead of roads that all forms of transportation can use. What other conclusion can I reach when I see so few bike lanes and Share the Road signs in Hillsborough County and Tampa, for example.

In the city of Tampa, there are obvious roads that would be ideal bike-commuter roads that have no bike lanes. These are wide, one-way roads with at least three car lanes such as Platt Street, Florida Avenue and Armenia Avenue. There's space for a bike lane on the side. Why not paint a bike lane so that the city can encourage bike-commuting into downtown Tampa?

Check out Bayshore Boulevard, the city's so-called signature thoroughfare. On one side of the road, there's not a bike lane. On the other side, there is a bike lane. But like so many bike lanes around here, it just ends in mid-road. In fact, while I was biking home from that recent meeting, I was following a bike lane on Bullard Parkway that mysteriously disappeared in the Temple Terrace area. Bike lanes: Now you see 'em (if you can find one). Now you don't.

Then, there's the Bruce B. Downs corridor in the New Tampa area. The first time I biked this road more than three years ago I asked myself, "What the hell is this?" Some sections of the road have space on the side; other sections of the road have zero space for a bicycle. When Hillsborough County unveiled its original plan to widen this road, the proposal did not even have a bike lane - see what I mean about a local transportation culture that does not protect bicyclists?

Only after protests from cyclists did the county reduce the width of car lanes to come up with three feet for bicyclists on the side. If you get the chance, check out how they want bicyclists to get around the new proposed I-75 interchange area on Bruce B. Downs. Instead of building bike lanes for road cyclists to follow through the interchange area, the road engineers proposed that bicyclists cross I-75 entry and exit ramps where cars are zooming at high speeds.

Last November, I, along with two local Tampa bike stores, put the county and DOT on notice that the proposed I-75 interchange area is dangerous and that a Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that is widened without official bike lanes puts the county at liability because road projects are supposed to have bike lanes where possible in Florida. We asked to meet the county and the DOT. We got blown off.

Indifference to Fatalities
Bicyclists in Florida die at a higher rate than bicyclists in any other state in the country. In fact, Florida earns this dubious distinction on an annual basis. You'd think that transportation engineers would make it a priority to build and maintain safe roads.

But the sad thing is that even when bicyclists die around here it doesn't seem to shake people up. A bicyclist died around the New Year near Bruce B. Downs at the Hillsborough-Pasco county line. No outrage. Just another casualty that helps Florida realize its dreadful distinction of having the highest bicyclist fatality rate in the country.

We have road congestion. We have overweight people. We have warm weather. We have flat terrain. People should be biking around here.

More would if we committed the public resources to make it happen. But we have to be committed to a new attitude - that bicycles make our communities a better place to live.

Not all is gloomy. We have a good example of a local government that has a good attitude about bicycling. Tampa should look at the city of St. Petersburg, which was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a bicycle-friendly city last year. Check out St. Pete. There are bike lanes. Even the letter carriers bike around downtown. It's a place where bicyclists are out there because that city decided to make it a more inviting place for cyclists. This spring there are several organized bicycle rides and a bike-to-work campaign in May that are sure to generate interest.

But it's unfair for transportation officials and engineers to tell us there are not enough bicycles on the roads to warrant more space and resources for us bicyclists. They're not out there on the roads because transportation engineers are not building roads that are perceived as safe by people who want to ride two-wheelers.

Fix roads and build better roads for bicyclists. And we shall come.

Alan Snel, a former Tribune reporter, has twice biked solo across the country. He writes a bicycle blog at and promotes cycling for six Tampa Bay area bicycle stores.


Seminole said...

I have to agree. Several years ago I spent $300.00 on a bike to get me to and from work to save on gas (I lived very close) but even riding down Rome or N. Boulevard was scary for me. I was only going from Hillsborough to Waters but people were very rude with their driving and comments. I was just to afraid to ride so I gave it to my sister-in-law. I'm getting to old for bikes anyway. Give me a giant peddle car.

Seminole said...

Oh! And another thing is stalled cars. People in this city are just to quick to yell and curses at you when your stalled and blocking traffic but they won't stop and help you get it off the road. What's up with that?

Mother and I went to Lowe's on Saturday afternoon, coming back (east bound on waters) we came to a stop at the light on Waters and Dale Mabry. There was a stalled car in the right straight lane. No one was helping them, just beeping and going around. This is a busy intersection. I couldn't take it, I told mom to take over the driving and jumped out of my truck. Told them to put it in neutral so I could push 'em. The windows were so dark I thought there was an old lady driving. Luckily it was a small car. The female passenger got out of the car to help. She said she had told the man she was riding with that he needed to pull over that something was wrong with the car. But he wasn't listening. Now isn't this a sight? Two women pushing a lazy man in a small car around the corner to clear traffic. No one offered to help as a matter of fact we were almost hit by a truck in the turn lane and we both had our hands up to stop traffic. Did they pay attention? NOOOOOO! They ended up slamming on their brakes.

Well, we got him off the road and with a thank you from her and welcome from me it was back to the truck I ran, trying to beat the light so we wouldn't hold up traffic. Mom had asked if she could get in front of a car to get me if the light changed before I got there. Wow, got there just in time. We didn't need to change lanes.

I hadn't had that much exercise in a long time and I guess God thought I needed it. So guess what God did? Gave me another, this time a mechanic (by himself) on the corner of Waters and N. Newport. He was trying to push a van backwards while steering it off of Waters. It's hard enough with two people but 1 person needs help. As we past I told mom to pull over (I just couldn't stand it). I ran back and jumped in the van to steer, ended up getting out and pushing while steering (my dad taught me how, but he didn't teach me good sense). We got it off the road and with a thank you from him and a welcome from me back to the truck I ran.

Now why couldn't someone else have stopped to help? I'll tell you, because their all caught up in their own little world that doesn't include strangers.

I'm not telling you this because I want a pat on the back, I already had that to help catch my breath. I'm telling you because I'm mad. I'm not just mad but I'm pretty well pi**** off. Show some compassion to each other and help when needed. It doesn't matter if you know them or not. If they think you're crazy, so what? How much time would it take out of your busy day? One minute out of sixty? Pay attention to the bikers, the stalled vehicles and the people crossing the street.

Well, I feel better now that that's off my chest. Now if I could just get rid of the muscle pain.

Anonymous said...

I am ashamed to admit it but bikes on the road really anoy me. Hello they are not cars and don't belong where cars are. Ride on the sidewalk! It's much safer there! you guys get on my nerves! Bikes should use the back roads and ride on sidewalks on the major roads, there are not many pedestrians.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:32
You're half right. Bicycles are not supposed to be on sidewalks by law and if you want to make any distance you have to be on a road.
That being said, any cyclist should know the side streets and use them for their own safety. Any cyclist that would try to commute using Nebraska as the main route is an idiot

IFly said...

I've moved around quite a bit and Tampa has the worst bike/pedestrian/automobile relationship of anywhere I've lived. The infrastructure is very unfriendly to bikes and pedestrians, drivers are so often distracted and aggressive that walking or biking is dangerous if you're going more than a few blocks. Yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk is almost unheard of. Florida Ave scares me to even walk on the sidewalk with 45mph traffic literally inches away. On the other hand bikers and pedestrians are just as much a part of the problem. Pedestrians regularly don't cross where they're supposed to. I drive past TGH on Bayshore and nearly every morning the construction guys are Froggering across. They start at the bottom of the stairs for the overpass so with just a little extra effort they could go up and over the traffic, but they don't they wait and wait then dart across between cars. Also, until moving here I could probably count on one hand the number of cyclists I've seen riding opposing traffic, here it's almost every day. Not that those folks appear to be the serious riders, but it reflects on the whole community.

Anonymous said...

i am not ashamed to admit that bikes on the road annoy me....they actually piss me off. i have no problems with recreational bike riders - but stick in recreational areas...adults should drive shiny cars to work...

IFly said...

While current Tampa sentiment might favor you, the law, however, does not. Bicycles have just as much right to use the roads as "shiny cars." Besides, I've haven't been cut-off by a cellphone yapping cyclist, yet nor have I heard a bicycle go boom boom down my street. I submit that "adults" should respect one another's choices as to what they drive to work.

Jeff said...

Nice article Alan. I would love to see Nebraska turned into a two lane road with turn lanes and bicycle paths. We actually looked at a study in OSHNA many years ago that said such a change would increase traffic volume on Nebraska. The city didn't like it. I seriously doubt our present director of CDOT would like it either.

Similar to the bus system, this city just ain't made for the Urban Dweller. The bus system is made for people without cars not as an alternative to a car.

Anonymous said...

F*ck Tampa. That is what I generally say. The maddening urban(e) sprawl with no regard to city planning and the inhospitable landscape. Seriously. If they screw Cappy's over, they might as well keep writing articles about how all the young, innovative talent is leaving because I am GONE. This town makes you seek out the few unique and eco-friendly aspects it provides. I am sick of f*cking driving to Flatwoods to ride a bike or the Pinellas Park trail. Look at Portland (VA), Chicago, Arlington (VA), and pretty much any other major city for a "how to" guide in city planning complete with trails and parks. Tampa's dismal Riverwalk is a pathetic example of failed innovation. Horrible.

Anonymous said...

What I just despise more than bikers are inconsiderate people that take their time walking across a road with an attitude knowing you will slow down or brake so as not to hit them. They see you coming but don't care and mosey along as if they have all the time in the world with no regard to the driver. God forbid those people ever cross at the light where they should or at least make an effort to hurry across so the driver is not so inconvenienced - oh noooo can't do that. Sometimes I just want to floor it and put the scare in some that I would run them over. Inconsiderate Idiots!

Anonymous said...

First I think Tampa should take baby steps. I can't WALK on sidewalks from my house to my neighbors. Give me safe pedestrian walkways before spending millions for bike lanes. I think you all will agree that there are many more walkers than bikers.

I find it amazing that one pedestrian on bayshore gets killed and the entire city staff is brought in for solution and changes. Yet, in a neighborhood with a large population of pedestrians, we can't get 100 feet of sidewalks. While I too love riding a bike, I wouldn't call out the Calvary to spend more tax money until everyone can walk.

The funny thing is that what the mayor has spent on her un-used riverwalk we could have sidewalked all of Seminole Heights...something that would be used daily, not annually.

Anonymous said...

Mostly those that mosey across the road speak Ebonics.

Anonymous said...

Yea, and they're hoping you hit them so they can sue you.

Anonymous said...

8:51, safe pedestrian walkways will require some things that nobody will want to give:

1. More space for sidewalks, which has to come out of peoples' yards or businesses. Good luck with that.

2. More pedestrian-operated traffic lights and crosswalks.

3. A real shift in attitude on the part of drivers, from "You're an impediment and it is my right to get around you however I can" to "You have right of way, and it's okay if you amble across the intersection while my light turns red and I have to sit here for another poorly timed light cycle."

4. A real shift in attitude on the part of pedestrians from "I've got all day" to "I need to hurry a bit more".

5. The city would have to spend some more money and time the lights along Hillsborough better (or at least adequately).

6. Florida and Nebraska avenues would have to become two-lane roads with nice wide lanes again so drivers aren't packed into little tiny raceways. On either side, the space left over would become sidewalk *and bike lane* space.

7. Coeval with (6), the speed limit would be 35 MPH, strictly (and mercilessly) enforced.

Greg said...

Anon 8:51

The big difference to the attention to Bayshore with the death is that -

Many citizens from many areas of the city use that as a linear park - thereby improvements to this area positively affect more citizens than sidewalks in a specific neighborhood.

But more importantly..... that (South Tampa - Davis Island) is an area of town that VOTES consistantly. Who does city council listen too when allocating the budget funding or addressing "emergencies"- an area that won't even vote for a proven individual running for city council from their area or an area that votes and has the power, influence and money. They have nothing to fear from us - we can't even get off our collective butt and vote........

That's why we have such an uphill battle when we have to go to city council or the parks dept or the city as a whole. If they ignore us what will happen - we'll vote them out of office - yeah right - we may turn out 8% if we are really upset - South Tp and New Tp vote so they get the attention and the funding.

We have to go in and be the squeaky wheel to get the attention - they call or e-mail and it happens.

We reinforced our own perception with the dismal voter turnout - regardless of who you intended to vote for - it did not happen and now we vote for a "do nothing" rep or a confrontational rep on city council - not really an option that I'm happy to choose from.

I'm hoping that many people will be at city council tonight to tell them that the zoning needs to be changed to effect us positively and not just for Cappy's but for all potential businesses in the 'hood. But I'm assuming a rerun of "That 70's Show" will take higher priority than having a voice for postive change in the neighborhood.

shrekswife said...

Hey IFly ...
How'd you luck out not ever seeing any bikes that don't go BOOM BOOM? Over by me, they gots them boom boxes bungee'd to their handlebars! One time even saw a guy with a tricycle who had HUGE speakers strapped inside the rear basket! I was at Popeye's chicken on Hillsborough and 22nd, and even the employees there were shaking their heads in disgust as he rode past!

I think I can almost say "I've seen it all" around here.

IFly said...

Admittedly, I have seen bikes with the boomboxes, but never one with subwoofer base that would "shake the foundation." I can usually get rid of the bike-mounted noisemakers by shutting the door, the boom cars, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Mostly those that ride Boom-Boom Bikes speak Ebonics.

Ben said...

I just had the best laugh reading all of these. I agreed with pretty much everything. As I read these aloud to my wife, she roared at the descriptions of race car lanes, people crossing the road, and boombox bicycles! All I can say is that WE have seen all of those things and more.

I can't believe I live here sometimes. As much as I love SH, Tampa has a long way to go to keep us here much longer than a year or so when I am done with school.

Terri said...

Just thought I would bring this up. Last night, around 9 o'clock, a pedestrian was hit and killed at Nebraska and Hanna. The driver took off. This makes the THIRD (3rd) hit and run pedestrian death in Seminole Heights in 5 months. Two of the deaths occured less than 100 feet from each other, at Hanna and Nebraska. I can't help but think that if this had happened on Bayshore, all hell would be raised. The man's death last night didn't even make the news.
I guess it will take somebody's child being tragically run down, before TPD decides to get off their asses and slow people down in this area. I would like to think we can lean on City Hall about pedestrian safety, as much as we can about keeping open our favorite pizza place. Something to think about.

Anonymous said...

This was in the Times today.

But you're right Teri. Now that we've had 3 deaths in 5 months should we merit some more studies, speed enforcement, caution signs, task force...something?

Terri said...

Correction, The driver didn't take off. My bad. That's what the officer said last night. Still.

Resident Blogger said...

Greg you are SOOOOO right. SH proves it wants to eat pizza and drink coffee and I imagine those 100 people that showed up at city council in a show of support, were all voters. Problem is 100 people in city council mean alot. 100 voters out of the Greater SH area is nothing! People do not realize that the power in the vote reaches far beyond any single race. Our voice is crippled when people do not vote. The 100 can not do it with out the other thousands!