St. Petersburg is one of the premier cities in Florida for cycling. There are various designated bicycle lanes on the streets, beautiful bay and gulf views, easy access to the Pinellas Trail, and plenty of clubs to join if you need friendly motivation to get out and ride. As an avid cyclist myself, I can attest to the bike-friendly nature of the city, but I can also tell a story or two about close calls with careless motorists. As nice as it is to bike one of St. Pete’s many trails, it can also be terrifying to share the road with cars and trucks that drive like you are invisible. If you enjoy biking in and around St. Pete, you should take some important steps to protect yourself from serious injury.
Dangers of Biking in St. Pete
Despite access to safe, well-maintained trails like the Pinellas Trail, Courtney Campbell, Fort DeSoto Island and North Bay, cyclists in St. Pete face danger whenever they head out on roads shared with cars. In fact, Florida is the deadliest state in the country for cyclists, with 5.7 bicycle-related deaths per million residents each year. On average, 110 cyclists die in Florida every year and many more are injured. According to data analyzed Southwest Florida’s News-Press, in 2014 alone, there were over 7,000 crashes involving bicycles across the state. 574 of those were in Pinellas County, resulting in 6 deaths in the St. Pete area that year. Some of the causes of these crashes include the following:
- Distracted or impaired motorists. The biggest threat to cyclists in St. Pete is the distracted driver. When a driver is sending a text, changing the radio station, drinking coffee, or even talking on a hands-free phone, she is not paying close enough attention to the road to spot a cyclist in the bike lane. Likewise, an impaired driver lacks the focus needed to give a cyclist plenty of room when passing and to yield the right of way at an intersection.
- Careless and reckless drivers. Speeding and careless drivers are another big threat to cyclists. When a driver is out of control, he may swerve into the path of a bicycle, causing an accident. He may also be unable to brake fast enough to avoid rear-ending a cyclist in front of him at an intersection.
- Dangerous infrastructure. Roads designed years ago without any consideration for the size of a road bike tire are dangerous to cyclists. Grates which run parallel to the path of traffic in a road, bollards, large potholes, and various grade changes in an around bike lanes and trails can pose severe risks to people on bikes.
- Dogs and pedestrians. As much as St. Petersburg is a cycling friendly community, it is also a dog-loving city. We love dogs too, but not when they jump on or run into people riding bikes. Sharing trails with dog walkers can be dangerous when the owners don’t rein in Fido as you pass by.
- Distracted cyclists. Bike trails may seem like the safest place to ride because there are no cars, but when other cyclists are wearing headphones, using their cellphones, or are simply inconsiderate of other riders, they can cause accidents.
Some roads in town pose a significant threat to cyclists due to heavy traffic and busy intersections. One such intersection is 34th Street and 5th Avenue North. Deadly intersections tend to be along heavily developed, multilane surface roads such as 66th Street, Central Ave., Park Blvd., 4th St. N., and Pasdena Ave. Avoiding these areas if at all possible is one step you can take to protect yourself.
Safety Tips for Cyclists
Frankly, no one cares as much about your safety as you do. If you are going to ride your bike around St. Pete, it is up to you to protect yourself from the hazards that are out there. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides the following helpful safety tips for cyclists:
- Ride a bike that fits. If the bike is too big for you, you will not be able to control it.
- Make sure your tires are in good shape and that your brakes work well.
- Wear protective equipment, including an approved safety helmet and reflective gear.
- Equip your bike with front and rear lights and reflectors. Visibility is the key to your safety.
- Know the rules of the road and follow them, just as you expect motorists to do.
- Do not use your phone or wear headphones while riding.
- Always assume drivers cannot see you and ride defensively.
A reliable local bike shop is a great place to go to get properly outfitted for safety. St. Pete has several great bike shops for locals looking for a new bike, a tune-up, or safety gear. Jim’s Bicycle Shop on 66th Street has been in business for 40 years and offers personal service to beginners and experts alike. St. Pete Bicycle and Fitness is a community-centered shop that offers rentals, tune-ups, events, and a focus on safety. Wherever you go, be sure to ask for their advice about riding safely in and around St. Pete.
Once you are ready to roll, check out one of the many local bicycling events. The St. Pete area offers fun rides, challenging races, and rides supporting worthy causes for everyone from the beginner to the advanced rider.
Common Cycling Injuries and What to Do If You Are Hurt
Almost everyone who has ridden a bike has experienced a crash of some kind. Being struck by a car can result in significantly more serious injuries, such as the following:
- Head injuries/traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord damage/paralysis
- Neck or back injuries
- Hip, collarbone and femur fractures
- Road rash
- Shoulder dislocation
- Knee injuries
As soon as you are able after the crash, you should seek medical attention. If you do not require emergency medical treatment, try to obtain contact information for anyone involved in the accident as well as any witnesses. Calling the police to file an accident report is a great way to ensure that all of this information is properly documented. Your next call should be to an experienced bicycle accident attorney.
Your Attorney Should Be Your Ally
If you or someone you care about is injured while riding a bicycle in St. Petersburg, you should speak to an experienced cycling attorney. The laws that apply to bicycle collisions are unique and rarely understood by people who haven’t ridden a bike since childhood. The police often make mistakes in investigating bicycle versus motor vehicle crashes. Cyclists are presumed to be at fault for riding in the road, or the sidewalk, or even the left lane of a roundabout (yes, we have dealt with all of these issues) when in reality, they have the same rights to use the road as another other vehicle.
I am an avid cyclist, member of the Florida Bicycle Association, and author of various cycling publications. My team focuses the majority of our practice on bicycle injuries and is happy to discuss your claim with you. As part of our continual commitment to cyclists, we provide free information about how to get their bike frame repaired or replaced without an attorney, even if we don’t accept their cases.
Download our free book, Florida Bicycle Accident Handbook, to learn about how to proceed in the wake of your bicycle crash. Want answers now? Call us at 727-446-0840 to speak with one of our attorneys. Every phone consultation is free. We make ourselves available to you and other cyclists.