The above heading comes by way of an article by reporter Larry Hannan in today's Florida Times-Union. The story's origins are derived of a recent release of a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listing Florida as the leader in bicycle fatalities for 2007. I've gone ahead and included that page of the NHTSA report that lists the fatality data. Click on the image below for full size.
The articles main focus is to point out how much higher Florida's cyclist death rate is in comparison to states with much higher populations. The reporter in his attempt to offer answers as to why the Sunshine State isn't so sunny for cyclists does so with provided quotes from a few local cycling advocates (Yours truly included) and shop owners. And as one would expect the answers are wide and varied.
Scott Gross Manager of Open Road Bicycles finds that, “People are very nice to cyclists in other parts of the world, But around here they just want you off the road.”
Not my experience with Jacksonville roads or drivers at all. I find that most drivers are very polite and concerned about my safety. Of course there are those meatheads that believe bikes have no business on the streets. But from my experience, they are few. I do guess however that it also depends how one rides and uses their bike. I'm willing to bet that weekend club riders encounter a whole lot more frustrated drivers than do the daily commuters since they (club riders) tend to ride in large packs and take up more roadway.
Miriam Gallet, of the North Florida Bicycle Club, is quoted, "drivers and cyclists both need more education." and “Florida needs to add bicycle awareness to its Florida drivers license exam,” I couldn't agree more. But she then goes on to say, “and bicyclists need to understand when they are riding on roads they are considered motorists and must obey all traffic laws.” Last I checked, my bike has no motor. Thus I cannot be a "motorist." I do however operate my bike as a Vehicle according to Florida State law.
She also goes on to add, "Some cyclists don’t wear helmets, either, and as a result the trauma to the head on impact is too great." Pay no attention that Florida State law does not require the wearing of a helmet of anyone over the age of 16. Or that bicycle helmets are designed to withstand an impact of 12 mile per hour. Or ruffly what would happen if you were standing at a full stop and suddenly fell over striking your head. Bicycle helmets are not designed to withstand an impact with a couple tons of steel at any speed.
There are many variables that contribute to why Florida has such a high fatality rate. The most obvious would be our year round excellent weather coupled with a mostly flat terrain which allows and encourages more people to ride bikes. You can also point at the lack of education for both the cyclist and driver.
But the real answer to why the death rate is so high here is lack of infrastructure and poor planning. By infrastructure I'm not speaking of just the lack of bike lanes and bike paths. I'm talking about connectivity. That's right Mr./Mrs. mayor, council person, city/state/federal planner and road engineer, connectivity. Say it with me, con·nec·tiv·i·ty, connectivity. If there were more of a connection with neighborhoods and roads, cyclists and pedestrians would have the ability to ride/walk on less heavily traveled streets and not forced onto the main roads causing them to be exposed to the risks and dangers that those roads bring.
And to the drivers that do feel the need to scream out your window as you pass. I think you need to understand what your actions look and sound like from a cyclists point of view.