Some of you may have seen a TBO/Channel 8 news report Thursday of the case of Brad Mercel, a bicyclist cited for impeding traffic by a police officer recently in Tampa. I wanted to use this case as a learning experience, so I invited George Martin, an expert on bicycle laws and a staff member of the Florida Bicycle Association, to come with me and chat with Tampa Police about bicycling in Tampa this week.
We had a cordial meeting on Wednesday with Assistant Police Chief John Bennett and two other officers about bicycle laws and I mentioned the law does permit a bicyclist in Florida to bike in the middle area of a traffic lane under certain circumstances such as:
-- Preparing to make a left turn.
-- Avoiding debris on the side of the traffic lane.
-- When a traffic lane is so narrow (sun-standard in width) as to be dangerous for a driver to safely pass a bicyclist while also giving that cyclist the required three feet of passage. (Brad's case).
Do I take the lane all the time? No. My rule of thumb is to give myself at least two or three feet on the right edge of the roadway and I carefully bike toward the center for safety purposes when there are circumstances that permit me under law to drive my bike closer to the center of the lane. Generally speaking, I try to bike to the right (as "practicable" as the law says) but NOT on the edge. And I routinely take the lane for safety and visibility purposes when legal circumstances allow.
I did not discuss Brad's case with Tampa police two days ago. That was not the focus of our meeting. Instead, we focused on ways to move ahead together to improve bicycle safety in Tampa.
I told Howard Altman of the Tampa Tribune about what I thought was a successful meeting with Tampa police about bicyclists' rights and safety issues. He passed the story to Natalie Shepherd of Channel 8, who did a "he said, she said" story about Brad's case and did little to educate people about bicycle laws.
She did not interview George Martin, who devotes his time to educating people in Florida about bicycle laws. And she did not put the story into context -- that the city of Tampa has a reputation for having unfriendly streets for bicyclists and that Tampa ranks near the bottom of U.S. cities for offering safe and accommodating infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians.