Between 2010 and 2016, the number of cyclists killed in motor-vehicle crashes—840 nationwide—jumped 35 percent. Reasons for this increase include more overall traffic, driver distractions, and driving under the influence of alcohol. While cyclist deaths have risen in many states, Florida tops the list with 6.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. This figure is 59 percent higher than the next state with the second highest level, Louisiana.
Pinellas County has the highest cyclist death rate in the Tampa Bay metro area at 7 deaths per 100,000 residents, the highest rate of any metro region in the US. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the most common cause (38 percent) of fatal car versus bicycle crashes is a failure to yield the right of way. Additional factors are making improper turns, failing to use lights, and wearing dark clothing.
Why Does Pinellas County Have So Many Fatal Cycling Accidents?
Contributing to these sad statistics are the factors of a large senior population in Florida and a year-round influx of tourists who are often unfamiliar with local traffic patterns and risks. In 2018, about 6.6 million visitors to Pinellas County spent a night here. While they represent an important economic contribution to our communities, they also increase demand on the roadway network, particularly during Easter and spring break periods.
Those who advocate for more bike-friendly roads say that cyclists have the limited choice of riding on busy streets with cars whooshing close by or riding on sidewalks where pedestrians, garbage cans, debris, and cars pulling out of driveways can present obstacles and potential danger.
Many towns and suburbs in Pinellas County are connected by six-lane arterial roadways with a speed limit of 45 mph or higher. That’s why the Florida Department of Transportation changed its standard width for bike lanes from four to seven feet and recommended protected bike lanes. The agency also allocated millions to improve lighting at 2500 locations where nighttime crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians were high.
61% of All Traffic Fatalities Involved Vulnerable Users: Pedestrians, Bicyclists, and Motorcyclists
Forward Pinellas, the county’s land-use and transportation planning agency, reported in its 2019 trends and conditions report that bicycle crashes in the county increased 7 percent and bicycle fatalities by 9 percent over a five-year average. It also stated that 61 percent of all traffic fatalities involved pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (“vulnerable users”). Teen drivers, senior drivers, impaired drivers, distracted drivers, and aggressive drivers were responsible for the majority of accidents and fatalities.
In most county areas, motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians are all sharing the same space. Busy thoroughfares are serving the dual purpose as ways of getting cars to interstates and as local streets to homes and businesses. These roadways represent a risky situation for cyclists in particular because there are so many potential places where their path can cross with vehicles—behind, in front, and on the side.
Hazards of Cycling to Work in Tampa Bay
There are 60 miles of existing Pinellas Trail loop and 76 miles of existing community trails for recreational and health-benefit-driven riding. Thirty-two percent of households live within a half mile of these trails, but only about 1 percent of the working population cycles to work. This may be due in part to traffic congestion on county roadways between the mainland and barrier islands, which is particularly dramatic during peak commuting times.
The Tampa Bay Times recently featured a story about a woman who, presently unable to afford a car, bikes to work in downtown Tampa a total of 16 roundtrip miles a day. She was quoted as saying that in big intersections she’s had more than a few close calls with cars, sometimes having to cross seven lanes of traffic to get to her place of employment. She added that many motorists drive as if bicycle riders were a nuisance. Clearly, many things are needed to improve this situation in terms of perception, education, infrastructure, safety regulations, and just plain old personal responsibility as drivers and bicycle riders on Pinellas County roads.
Have You Been in a Bicycle Crash in Pinellas County & Need Help?
If you or someone you know has been injured in a bicycle accident caused by a careless driver in Clearwater, St Petersburg, or anywhere in Pinellas County, Florida, help from an experienced bicycle injury lawyer may be critical to the success of your case. For twenty-five years, attorney Jim Dodson has applied his own personal cycling experience to assist hundreds of bicycle rider injury victims. Simply contact us online or call our office at 727-446-0840 and explain what happened. Learn what we can do to help you.