Friday, July 30, 2010

Officials Must Mount Public Awareness Campaign For Bicyclists

I have submitted this column to the St. Petersburg Times


The July 29 tragic death of bicyclist LeRoy Collins, a retired admiral and the son of a Florida governor, was a painful wake-up call regarding the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians in the Tampa area. Collins, out for an early-morning bike ride in the Hyde Park area, was killed by a driver who made a left turn into him.

For the past two years, SWFBUD (South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers) has been sounding the call for public safety and political leaders to mount a public awareness campaign focusing on getting drivers to slow down and drive cautiously around bicyclists and pedestrians.

Under law, bicycles are vehicles -- just-slowing moving vehicles that have the same rights to be on the road that you have as a driver of a motorized vehicle.

But here in the Tampa Bay area, roads were designed and built with little room for bicyclists, which has prompted a car-centric public sensibility.

This must change now.

I am asking Mayor Pam Iorio, the Hillsborough County Commissioners and other elected officials to work with police to spawn a campaign to tell drivers to slow down, give three feet when passing bikes and show courtesy when sharing the road.

Our community has mounted anti-drunk driving and seat belt buckle-up safety campaigns and now I'm asking everyone from the DOT Community Traffic Safety Team to the MPO transportation planners to public agencies to launch a public sign and PSA movement to get the word across that the drivers of bicycles and motorized vehicles need to safely be on the road together in a safe manner.

SWFBUD has already partnered with Tampa Police (District 2), Hillsborough and Pinellas county sheriff's offices and Temple Terrace police to have law enforcement deploy portable electronic message boards on roadways to display bike-safety messages such as Bicycles Are Vehicles, Share The Road, and Give 3 Feet When Passing Bikes. You can see those signs on www.swfbud.blogspot.com.

This message that bicycles are everywhere needs to be disseminated through all media platforms by public agencies that have the public resources to get the word out.

The death of Mr. Collins was heart-breaking and saddening, but regrettably it was only the latest death of a bicyclist in a state that usually leads the nation in per-capita bicyclist deaths.

We have launched anti-drunk driving and buckle-up campaigns.

Now it's time to do the same to advise drivers that our public roadways are for everyone regardless of the mode of transportation you choose to get around.