I have lived in metro New York City; upstate New York; Ann Arbor, Michigan; South Florida; Denver; and metro Seattle.
And nowhere have I lived in an area where motorists scream at me to get off the road while I'm cycling more often as the drivers in the Tampa Bay area. Quite simply, a disturbing high number of motorists in the Tampa Bay area are not educated to understand that bicycles are vehicles and have a right to bike in the road.
About three weeks ago, I was cycling single file with my bike pals Nick and Rick on Swann Avenue in Tampa heading west just west of the McDill Avenue intersection when the three of us heard a motorist blaring her car horn from a quarter-mile behind. She continued to honk her horn loudly as she got closer and closer and proceeded to pass all three of us by mere inches. It was a frighening episode. We caught up with the driver in the black Jeep Cherokee at a traffic signal at Manhattan Avenue and I snapped a photo of the tag number for ID purposes.
Later that day, I contacted Tampa Police about this incident and later that week a police corporal interviewed the woman driver about the case. The corporal told me the driver was not aware that motorists are required by law to pass a bicyclist by a minimum berth of three feet in Florida and the driver told the officer that she thought all bicyclists should be biking on "pathways" in Tampa. But the officer said her investigation concluded that the driver did not try to intentionally strike us.
That's why the driver was not charged with any violation. But the driver was given a stern lecture by the officer about a bicyclist's right to the road and that motorists must pass cyclists by a minimum space of three feet.
Today, I received a disturbing email from a bicyclist friend who said he was biking a road in Tampa today when a driver blared his horn and nearly hit him with his side mirror while passing him. Then this happened: "After this person passed us, he then abruptly slammed on his brakes with the intention of having us run into his vehicle from behind."
My friend said he caught up with the driver and they exchanged words, with the driver yelling that cyclists should be on the sidewalk and that roads are for cars. My friend said he was biking away on his mountain bike on the sidewalk when the driver attempted to drive onto the sidewalk in an attempt to strike him. I do not know whether my friend got a tag number or reported this incident.
Here are my suggestions regarding confrontational situations when motorists nearly strike bicyclists.
1. Get a tag number. In my case three weeks ago, I photographed the license plate and the car. My friend Rick also got the tag number, too,
2. Only if you feel safe enough, use your cell phone to take a photo of the driver for ID purposes.
3. NEVER NEVER touch the motorist's vehicle.
4. Report the incident with local police. It's vital to get the case on the record and launch an investigation.
If you bike on the roads in the Tampa Bay area, I'm sure you have faced a situation where a motorist was hostile to you by blaring his or her car horn or screaming at you to get off the road. In my friend's case today, he said the driver tred to hit him.
Emotions run high under these scenarios. Try to stay as calm as possible while making sure you get the tag number and even a photo of the vehicle. When a HART bus nearly sideswiped me a year and a half ago, I caught up with the driver at a red light, circled his vehicle and snapped a photo of the driver through the windshield from the sidewalk. HART investigated the matter and determined the bus driver was wrong for nearly hitting me and HART proceeded to put 3-foot signs on its buses and became a sponsor of the Bicycle Bash to improve bicycle awareness.
If you want to report a case in Tampa where a motorist nearly struck you or acted in a manner in which the driver tried to hit you, get a tag number and driver ID and contact Tampa Police. If it's not real-time and you're back at your home after the incident, call Tampa Police at its non-emergency number st 813-231-6130.
Stay safe out there. The roads are for everyone and bicyclists and motorists alike must obey the law to share the road safely.