To the editor
Florida is ranked the most dangerous state to be in if you're a bicyclist or pedestrian in spite of a law that states that motor vehicles are not to come closer than three feet from either. In the past 4 years I've personally ridden more than 20,000 miles on Pine Island roads. I've sailed offshore for many years (in horrible conditions sometimes), surfed over coral reefs miles from any medical facility, ridden motorcycles, been chased out of the water by sharks while diving and spearing fish and driven cars in all conditions - all activities that would seem more dangerous than taking a 25-mile ride around the neighborhood, but bicycling on Pine Island is by far the most dangerous thing I've ever done based on one of last week's rides. Here's part of a letter I wrote to a friend afterwards:
"Anything could happen," and almost did to me yesterday when a car going south came off Stringfellow turning left on Snowbird. I was riding south so he was behind me and even though I was wearing a brilliant green Irish team outfit he didn't see me. I got a little flash of light in the corner of my eye, and did a hard left leaving the bike path to avoid getting T-boned and run over. He missed me by inches. I avoided crashing somehow but he didn't even stop to see if I crashed or not. I got to him as he was opening his car door where I yelled at him, asking him what was wrong with him. When he told me that he just didn't see me, (a moving target in brilliant green), I told him he should consider turning in his driver's license and that I'd be reporting him so that if he didn't see another cyclist and accidentally killed him there would be a previous report and maybe he'd have some serious consequences. I'm lucky that I wasn't a half second later getting to that intersection; I'd have been under his wheels. Several people have been injured on that dangerous bike path, one with face reconstruction even though she was wearing a helmet, another with a life altering broken collarbone. Florida and probably Lee County has the highest (in the country), rate of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities.
Add to these weekly experiences where cars and trucks have come way too close to me and the others I ride with. Let's consider the consequences, easy to see for the pedestrian or cyclist, death or serious injury and a completely different life if you survive. Not so bad for the motorist who might have been on a cell phone or otherwise distracted when he/she didn't notice the rider or walker. It's easy to see who wins when an 18-pound bicycle is confronted by a 2-ton vehicle. What are the real consequences for the car driver? One would be that they have to live with the fact that they ended someone's life or drastically altered it affecting everyone in their family. Then there's the legal aspect for that diver, a possible vehicular homicide conviction resulting in well-deserved jail time. In my opinion this is not enough of a threat; it's just not taken seriously.
So what is the solution to this serious, (life and death), problem? This is my opinion and I know there will be contradictory opinions by some drivers but my solutions are easy to live with. We need everybody on the road to give more attention to their driving, be more professional and show a high level of skill and awareness.
Vehicles should move to the center of the road when passing a cyclist, going over the centerline if there's no car coming from the other direction. Have a bit of courtesy. If there's not adequate room to pass a bicyclist or pedestrian why not slow down until the car in the other lane is past and then move over a bit to pass, think ahead so you can slow down to make it safe for everyone and then pass. This act of kindness will only cost a driver a few seconds, where if not done it might cost the cyclist his life. All of the side streets that cross the bike path should have stop signs at the path; drivers must stop at them and creep forward from there to the edge of Stringfellow before turning. Drivers coming off Stringfellow need to watch the bike path for oncoming riders who really can't stop in time regardless of what you'd expect. Be fully aware of what's around you when you're behind the wheel. That thing weighs tons, drive it like a pro.
Cyclists should also be professional; amateurs don't last long in traffic. Cyclists should stay in the bike lane and not ride side by side. Don't wear earphones, you need to be able to hear, same for walkers. When on the "multi-use path" that so many of us call a bike path, you still have to be aware and ready for cars to come out of the side streets or off the highway, which isn't hard if they are coming from in front of you but it's impossible for a cyclist to watch in front, to the side and behind while trying to avoid crashing on a narrow bike path with walkers and dogs and other bikes. Cyclists should be well lit if they ride late or at night, be aware that if you're riding into the sun the driver coming from behind might be struggling with glare and not see you well. Always wear a helmet, get mirrors and don't be an amateur weaving all over the road or purposely blocking traffic flow. Ride like a pro and use your eyes to continuously scan front side and mirrors. Keep a couple fingers on the brakes when approaching traffic and be ready to react.
Road rules should be treated like the Coast Guard treats boating rules ... yes, there are right of way laws but if an accident is preventable it doesn't matter who has right of way. Just that it's pretty one-sided regarding bikes and cars with cyclist's right of way violated way more than cars are. The bottom line is that we need to have concern and courtesy for each other as groups who use the road and "multi use path" and give adequate space for each to use it safely. Live and let live, or suffer the consequences!
St. James City