Tampa Bay Bicyclists calling for safer roads


Year after year, Florida has received a title that no state would want: Most Dangerous State for Bicyclists.

In 2017, there were 6,465 bicyclist crashes statewide and 108 bicycle fatalities, according to state traffic crash reports .

Last March, Alan Snel nearly joined the deadly list.

"I was just bicycling on a two-lane road, south of Vero Beach Florida, just north of Ft. Pierce, and there was a motorist right behind me who basically slammed into me," said Snel.

Snel, a well-known bicycle safety advocate in the state, was thrown from his bike onto the roadway. He said he had no memory of the accident, only regaining consciousness in the ICU at a hospital in Ft. Pierce.

The driver, Dennis Brophy, 65, of Fort Pierce, was never ticketed for the accident. He told police several factors contributed to his collision with Snel.

"He said he was distracted. He was reaching for his inhaler, and he claimed that he had sleep apnea," explained Snel. 

The crash led Snel to pack up and move to Las Vegas, Nevada months later.
"It was clear to me that the state of Florida was just not a good place for me to continue living and riding a bicycle."

Florida law requires drivers to give cyclists 3 feet of distance when passing.

Cyclist Bob Griendling, President of the St Pete Bicycle Club, said he and his members have experienced 'close calls' with drivers during their early morning group rides.


"It's not uncommon for motorists to try to squeeze by in the same lane," said Griendling.
He added that drivers attempting to make turns can be especially dangerous for cyclists.

"When they look both ways at an intersection, they're not looking for a little piece of metal and a person off to the right. They're looking for a big hunk of metal in the middle of the lane," said Griendling.

The overlooked cyclist can easily get hit.

Cyclist commuter Than Luong, who rides from St Petersburg to his job in South Tampa daily, said he often encounters impatient drivers who are unwilling to share the road.
"Cars coming up rubbing their rear view mirrors really close to your shoulders, they're doing it on purpose to kind of scare you off the road," said Luong.

As a cyclist and driver, Joel Gormon, manager of Flying Fish Bikes in Tampa, said the problem of sharing the road is mutual.

"I think it's important to bear a certain amount of responsibility on both ends. As a driver, I'm always conscious of cyclists on the road. They move a lot quicker than people sometimes think, even I sometimes think being a cyclist," said Gormon.

Cyclists who are hit by drivers can face an uphill battle getting their medical expenses covered after a crash.

"If you're a victim of a hit and run, you're out of luck." said Attorney Steele Olmstead.
Olmstead sees clients who have gone car-free and gotten hit. Their medical bills, including ambulance charges, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Often times the cyclist must sue the driver who hit them to get reimbursed.

"What if they don't have insurance?" questioned Olmstead. "That is increasingly a problem. We have folks that are without insurance driving on suspended licenses and operating vehicles. They're completely without protection."

Some cyclist who don't have their own car do not have insurance to pay for their medical bills, and they have to file bankruptcy, according to Olmstead.

Olmstead said he believes a solution to decreasing the number of bicycle crashes is for law enforcement to be more empowered to crack down on cellphone use behind the wheel.

Tampa Bay cities are working to build more bicycle infrastructure, but the solutions are not perfect. Some cyclists feel that painted green bike lanes come with a new set of hazards for them.

"There's not a lot of traction on wet paint. It becomes really slick, and bicycle tires are 1/10 the size of a car tire," said Gormon.

Cyclists said there is a strong need for more education for drivers about the rules of the road regarding bicyclists and pedestrians.

"Motorists need to understand that bikes have a right to be there," said Griendling.
"A bicyclist is simply a slow moving vehicle on the road. They have an equal right to the public right of way as much as a person who just happens to be driving a motorized vehicle," added Snel.

In January, Senate Bill 116 was introduced in the Florida Senate.

The bill would add bicyclists to the current "Move Over Law," which requires drivers to switch lanes or reduce their speed when passing an emergency vehicles or utility workers along the side of the road.

If passed, "vulnerable road users," like cyclists, will be included.

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