26 September 2018

Where Cycling Isn't All Sunshine

For years, Florida has had, by far, the highest death rate for cyclists and pedestrians of any US state.  One study found that in 2012, as many cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in the Sunshine State as in Great Britain, which is roughly the same size, but has three times as many people and about as many more cyclists.

So, perhaps, it is no surprise that the Tampa Bay area has the highest cyclist fatality rate of any metropolitan area in the US, and that Pinellas--one of the four counties that comprises the area--has the highest rate of any county.

Florida's and the Tampa Bay Area's statistics are part of a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and reported yesterday in The Wall Street Journal.   

The article also included another interesting and disturbing--for folks who cycle in Florida (as I do for a few days every year), anyway.  Of the 50 major metropolitan areas in the US, the four with the highest rates of cyclists killed by motor vehicles--Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami--are all in Florida.  

I have cycled in Miami and near Jacksonville and Orlando.  For all the pleasure I've had in riding in those places, I can't say I'm surprised.  I do exercise more caution when I cycle in the land of manatees and armadillos than I employ even in New York, my hometown, or Paris.  I have my reasons.

For one thing, Florida, like much of the southern and western US, has an infrastructure and culture that is more auto-centric than they are in The Big Apple.  Although there are many nice side roads and trails, many of them are accessible only by highways or other heavily-trafficked roads.  And those main roads, as often as not, don't have a shoulder, let alone a dedicated bike lane.

Also, while there are more vehicles in New York than in any Florida city, people from the Keys to the Panhandle drive more often and longer.  That means traffic that can be as heavy as--and less regulated than--its counterparts in Northeastern or West Coast metropoli.

That also means drivers are more likely to be driving only themselves.  In my experience, solo drivers are more likely to take risks or simply lapse in concentration than drivers with passengers.

And, as we all know, Florida is a haven for senior citizens.  I have found nearly all of them to be careful, courteous drivers.  But--and I mean no offense to any seniors reading this--after a certain age, people's reflexes slow down, their sight dims and their hearing dulls.  I have seen at least a few people during my travels (and, to be fair, here in New York) who probably shouldn't be driving any more.

Finally, as the Journal article mentions, alcohol and distracted driving also play roles.  They also are hazards for cyclists in other places, but if my own experience is any indication, there is more of both in Florida than in other places I've ridden.  To be fair, I think the police, at least in some areas of the state, are making more of an effort to crack down on drinking or texting while driving.  But even the most vigilant gendarmes can catch only a small number of offenders and, I believe, there isn't as much of a cultural taboo against drinking and driving in Daytona Beach as there is in, say, Park Slope or Back Bay.

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