When we think of riding a bicycle, many things come to mind. Whether we are serious cyclists or simply enjoy being outdoors riding the Pinellas Trail, the fact is Florida is one of the most dangerous places to ride a bicycle.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Florida is nearly triple the national rate for the number of fatal bicycle collisions. In 2011, there were 125 bicycle fatalities in the state. Eleven cyclists died in crashes in St. Petersburg. These numbers don’t include other cyclists who were hit or severely injured. The entire Tampa Bay area reveals similar statistics.
People continue to intentionally choose to drink and drive or text on their cell phones while driving. And, yes some cyclists get on their bikes and ride without helmets and proper lighting. Many folks are aware of the number of cycling deaths in our area but how many think of these fatalities beyond statistics reported in the newspaper. Statistics represent real people – behind every drunk driving statistic is someone whose life was full of family and friends. This is important to remember - let’s put a face on several we’ve read about in the Tampa Bay Times.
In 2013, Rob Lemon and his girlfriend, Hilary Michalak were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle across the Memorial Causeway in Clearwater. They both died. They were wearing helmets. The driver of the car that hit them said he blacked out and did not remember hitting the young couple. Rob and Hilary met while they worked as counselors at a summer camp in college. He was majoring in animal science at Michigan State and hoped to open a bike store one day.
In 2012, David Formato of St. Petersburg was waiting to cross the street on his bicycle when two cars collided next to him. A Kia turned into the path of a Honda at an intersection and the impact of the cars collision caused the vehicle to crash into the cyclist. The cyclist was killed instantly. He had a son in the army and a daughter in college.
In 2010, LeRoy Collins, Jr. was struck and killed by a driver in Tampa. Cyclists held vigils and posted white “ghost bikes” in his honor. Collins was the son of the late Florida Governor LeRoy Collins. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he went on to become Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs.
Let us never think of bicyclist deaths as mere statistics. Drivers must realize the responsibilities of sharing the road. Bicyclists must take safety precautions to be seen and protect themselves.