I spend a lot of time on a bicycle. Not as much as in past years, but I’m hoping to get back to that soon. So I’m not really surprised at a report on jacksonville.com that Florida is the most dangerous state in the country for bicyclists.
Preliminary numbers released by the state last month have 113 cyclists being killed on Florida roads last year. That is a marginal drop from 2007, when 121 cyclists were killed — the most of any state in the country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
By contrast, Georgia had 16 fatalities in 2007 and California, with a much greater statewide population, had 109. The national numbers for 2008 haven’t been released.
People driving cars in Florida seem to have a big problem with bicycles. I try to be respectful of cars when I’m riding. Mostly, I know tonnage determines right of way, and a car beats a bicycle every time. I’d rather be right and fuming that I’ve been pushed to the side of the road than right and dead.
It’s unfortunate that there are so few places to ride safely in a state where the weather would encourage riding year round. There are very few bicycle lanes on roads around Jacksonville. First street in Jacksonville Beach has bike lanes, which are often full of joggers, roller-bladers, skateboarders, and the like. The bike lanes are also along the curb, and I can’t tell you how many flat tires I’ve suffered because of broken glass in the road. That pushes me out of the bike lane into the traffic lane. Not always ideal.
Actual bike trails are pretty rare as well. The Baldwin Rail Trail runs from Jacksonville’s west side over the the little town of Baldwin, about 15 miles over former railroad right-of-way. I haven’t ridden it for a couple of years, mostly because I live at the beach and it takes about an hour in the car to get there. As far as I know, it’s the only paved rail-trail in the area. The unimproved trails at Hanna Park, or Guana River State Wildlife Area are not conducive to my road bike, and they’re not more than 3-4 miles each. My usual ride is 4 times that long.
So I ride on the road with the cars. I’ve had stuff thrown at me. One car even shot silly string at me as I rode down First street. It’s a lot to go through just to get a little exercise. I’ve gotten used to cars racing past me with less than the legally-required 3 feet of clearance. A steady acceleration would do, but it seems they are so hell bent on getting past the bicycle that they really have to pour on the coal. It’s not really that difficult.
For Christmas a couple of years ago, my sister (an ER nurse) gave me a metal tag that attaches to my shoe with my name and address, along with an emergency contact number. It’s as essential as my helmet when I go for a ride. It’s tragic and inexcusable that there are so many bicycle fatalities in the state of Florida. I know cyclists don’t always follow all the rules of the road … but then neither do drivers.
In an ideal world, there would be ample places to ride separated from the traffic. I know cyclists would welcome this as much as the drivers would. That’s not going to happen any time soon in Jacksonville, or likely in the entire state of Florida. So we’re all … drivers and cyclists alike … going to have to be a little more respectful of one another. Because neither one of us owns the road.