Saturday, July 31, 2010

Awareness Of Bicyclists In Tampa Breeds Bicyclist Safety

Sixteen months before a 27-year-old Tampa General Hospital intern turned left with her SUV at a south Tampa intersection on July 29 and mortally wounded a 75-year-old bicyclist who was pedaling through the crosswalk, SWFBUD sounded the alarm about bicyclist fatalities in Tampa Bay and Florida.

Federal stats showed Florida had the most bicyclist fatalies in the U.S. in 2007 and bicyclists are killed at such a high rate in Florida that their deaths on the roads usually mean only a few paragraphs in the local newspaper.

SWFBUD asked everyone from Tampa city officials to transportation planners to launch a public awareness campaign to alert drivers of motorized vehicles that bicycles are vehicles and that cars, trucks and buses need to pass bicyclists by a space of at least three feet in compliance with state law.

But this 75-year-old bicyclist killed in the early morning in late July was no ordinary bike rider. LeRoy Collins was a retired Navy admiral who was the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs and the son of a former Florida governor.

He was the also the dad of my Seminole Heights bicycle friend, Ed Collins.

A few years ago I told Gena Torres, who works as a local MPO transportation planner in Hillsborough County, that the public will only pay attention to bicyclist deaths when someone who is prominent dies on a bicycle.

Which is why a local newspaper published a story on bicycling safety this week when ordinarily they run a short brief story when a bicyclist dies.

Even before Mr. Collins tragically lost his life while riding a bicycle, SWFBUD had recently partnered with local police agencies and the HART public bus service to display signs advising motorists to pass cyclists with a berth of at least three feet and respect a bicyclist's right to be on the road.

Apparently. a hospital intern by the name of Margaux Manuel hasn't seen those bike-safety messages.

She turned left with her SUV at an intersection at Brorein Street and South Hyde Park Avenue and T-boned Mr. Collins.

As a result, another Florida bicyclist was dead.

* * *

Tampa might be a big city, but it's also small enough that everyone seems to be connected to each other.

So small, in fact, that Mr. Collins' son, Ed, was formely married to a woman who was friends with the driver of the vehicle that killed his dad.

I spoke with Ed Friday afternoon and I can assure you that Ed does not want vengeance against Ms. Manuel the driver.

But Ed does want justice.

Which is why Ed told me that he could not understand why Tampa police did not cite Ms. Margaux for driving a vehicle that struck his dad.

Police did report that the driver was making a left turn when her vehicle struck the bicyclist.

When I read that I thought to myself that surely police would at least cite the driver for careless driving or failing to yield a right of way.

Ed does not want Ms. Manuel to suffer just because he suffered the loss of his father.

But surely, Ed told me, shouldn't the driver be cited for something?

After all, a bicyclist was struck by a vehicle while crossing an intersection and died.

* * *

Tampa is a city that is not kind to bicyclists.

Mayor Pam Iorio claims she supports bicycling, but she recently killed a city transportation manager's plan to stripe bike lanes on a 2.2-mile stretch of Euclid Avenue.

Why? Apparently our so-called pro-bicycle mayor thought the convenience of people who wanted to park on Euclid was of more importance than the safety of bicyclists who pedal along Euclid.

There is a culture in Tampa city government that talks about helping bicyclists and actually does very little in the way of on-road infrastructure for bicyclists. Thank goodness the Florida state Department of Transportation -- not the city -- striped bike lanes on Nebraska Avenue and Tampa Street.

Like Tampa, other Florida cities such as Miami and St. Petersburg had horrific reputations for being unfriendly to bicyclists.

But immediate former mayors decided to apply resources to make their cities' more hospitable to bicyclists. Now St. Pete and Miami are seen as model turn-around bike cities.

Even non-traditional bike cities such as Boston and Long Beach have launched bicycle programs to stripe bike lanes.

Mayor Iorio? She TOOK AWAY bike lanes on Euclid ao that people can park for book club meetings.

We need a city mayor who will support bicycling like she does light rail and the arts.

We need our public officials to rally support to educate drivers about bicyclist safety in the same way they did to fight drunk driving and get people to wear seat belts.

Perhaps if Ms. Manuel was informed by bike-safety PSAs and public awareness messages to look out for bicyclists, Ed would still have his dad around to talk bicycling.

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