Monday, May 11, 2009

Florida the most dangerous state for bicyclists

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.


Sarcastic Cyclist said...

Ruffly? Are you serious? Connectivity doesn't solve cars running people over. People get hit in the bike lanes all the time. How about charging people with manslaughter when they kill a cyclist?

Bike Jax said...

Sarcastic Cyclist, the post is about Florida's high death rate for cyclists. Not about what to do to those that kill a cyclist.

While I agree that drivers need to be held responsible for cyclists deaths. Better planning and building of our neighborhoods and roads (connectivity) does and will lead to a much lower number of accidents and deaths.

GhostRider said...

My take on the high number of fatalities is that yes -- infrastructure development, traffic calming schemes and all that other good stuff will help reduce these incidents...but the overwhelming "fix" is to eliminate poorly-lit, wrong-way-riding, drunk/doped, blow-through-the-lights-and-stopsigns riders.

Somewhere around a third of bike fatalities in 2007 had alcohol as a contributing factor, and who knows how many of those other factors I mentioned contribute. I'm basing my thoughts on anecdotal evidence (gleaned from newspaper/TV reports) of cyclist deaths. Sounds like education for both motorists AND cyclists is the best course of action.

Anonymous said...

Both Sides are to blame, everyone feels they own the road and that they are the perfect driver. Wake up folks the road is big enough for all of use. For those who do not get the message remember driving is a privilage not your right.

Father Sigmund

Abhishek said...

Thank you for posting this. This post is what I expected from Mr. Larry Hannan. He did not quote a single bicycle law or ordinance to refute or reinforce any of the quotes from the people he interviewed thus creating a clusterfcuk of dead end comments like his earlier brilliant post, leaving the readers no more wiser than they were about the constant clash between bicyclists and motorists.

URBISMUS said...

i think the issue of connectivity is the best resolution to this problem. Since statistics indicate that 99% of bike fatalities are of head injuries, ive accepted that riding a bike should include a helmet. Matts reference to the helmets limitations only further discourage me from sharing the road with automobiles. Ghostriders reference to incompetent, if not criminal, behavior of drivers makes floridas notorious lead in bicycle fatalities easy to believe.
development of exclusive bike commute trails seems like the best idea.
matt, did you mean that mandatory helmet use for cyclist under 16?

URBISMUS said...

i stand corrected on the florida statute of bike helmets optional over the age of 16.

Abhishek said...


I am not sure of the statistic you have quoted. Can you provide a source please? Also, could you provide some breakdown of the statistics. For example, how many people killed with a head injury were wearing a helmet? Did the helmets crack (because if helmets crack, your skull has accepted the full blow rendering the helmet useless). How many were riding on the road with the flow of traffic? How many were mountain biking or road racing? How many were commuters?

I do not want to start a helmet debate. No body wins and it gets no where. I just want some information to do a personal research.

Michele! said...

I've been mapping out my bike project for roughly...ah...7 months now (yeah I've been lazy but it hasn't been easy gathering information from Duval County officials either). So far, I've come to the conclusion that where the majority of accidents between cyclists and motorists (in Duval) has occurred are places where cyclist or pedestrian friendly infrastructure is absent or poorly developed. That's not to say there weren't other factors present in these accidents. It's just an observation I noticed in my research.

Keri said...

Excellent post!

You're right about club riders experiencing more hostility. I have done both kinds of riding.

An FDOT evaluation of crashes a few years ago revealed that only a small percentage of cyclists killed were riding on the road and legally. As GhostRider notes, drunk, unlit cyclists are over-represented in the stats.

I agree 100% about connectivity. It's not enough to stripe bike lanes on busy arteries. We need to focus on connecting quiet routes. Florida cities have developed poorly— terrible land use and traffic planning, no concern for connectivity (exacerbating geographical challenges like lakes).

Another contributing factor to fatalities is inadequate transit. Again, the demographic populating the statistics is one that is forced to use a bike for transportation. They are people with the least ability to access educational material about safe riding and they would probably use a transit system if it were available.

GhostRider said...

Urbismus, for the record I was referring to the incompetent, if not criminal, behavior of fellow cyclists, not motorists (but they're in no way off the hook in this fight!).

We joke about a distinction between "cyclists" and "people on bikes". The distinction is that "people on bikes" care not a whit for following road laws or engaging in common-sense behaviors...and they are overwhelmingly the ones who are being killed in car vs. bike incidents.

Flappers Alley said...

Thank you for the data. When we look at hard numbers from a dependable source we can step away from our emotional responses that normally say... what the hell is UP WITH ALL THE FATALITIES??? Then we can look at the numbers and know that it wasn't in our heads, and try to get some methods in place. Methods I (well, we) suggest: make certain that road construction follows the laws and includes, and paints in, the bike lanes, mark them as bike lanes with signs, and encourage drivers to follow the "three feet" law.

Love you Matt.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Florida years ago, I was surprised that Orlando was the worse in bus service and there are no side walks anywhere (I had this problem in Clearwater also but not nearly as bad).

Its silly that the byways (State Routes) are the only access to get from point a to point b and the best you can do on these old 1 and two lane roads is to ride in the grass.