If you’re looking for an ideal cycling vacation or mild winter training spot in the US, skip Florida. The sunshine state is ranked among the worst states to ride a bike and posts one of the nations highest cycling fatality rates.
Federal statistics from 2008 show that 17.4 per cent of the total number of cycling deaths nation-wide are in Florida. The South Florida Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) is working hard to improve cycling friendliness and reduce rider deaths.
“It has long been my opinion that one of the challenges in Florida is that, from the top down, cycling is treated as a fringe activity and not a form of transportation so it doesn’t gain a wider-acceptance,” said Raphael Clemente, vice president of the SFBC.
The SFBC bike advocacy organization is located in South Florida, the second largest metropolitan region outside of New York City with over 5 million residents. It is a member of the League of American Bicyclists, Florida Bicycle Association, and the Alliance for Biking & Walking. Change starts with cycling advocacy groups, like the SFBC, who are taking steps to educate its public about the importance of bike safety and the need to implement safer cycling facilities.
“People are much less courteous and less aware that cyclists are using public right-of-way streets,” he said. “When you create that atmosphere it leads the cycling population to think they can do what ever works best for them even if it is not safe, like running red lights. On the other side, the motoring public feels that cycling is an annoyance and an impediment to them getting to where they need to go quickly and easily. They are less likely to treat cyclist with respect.”
Several factors linked to Florida’s unsafe roads include a fast rising population in a state that was built to accommodate traffic efficiency for cars and trucks. Florida tourism accommodates nearly 80 million visitors each year contributing to the congested roads and dangerous driving. Lastly, that state’s year-round warm climate allows people to stay outside for longer amounts of time exposing themselves to the dangers of traffic accidents.
“The first place that the state needs to start is at the top by conveying the message that bicycles are vehicles that need to be operated like a vehicle,” Clemente said. “That will give legitimacy to cyclists using the roadway and send a quick message to motorists that cyclists are drivers of vehicles too.”
President of SFBC, Jeffrey-Lynne is widely known for his work within the South Florida cycling community. The SFBC was born following a landmark case of Rosenzweig v. Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), where Lynne represented as the lead co-council that successfully sued FDOT for failing and refusing to install bike lanes along the well-used travel corridor for bicyclists – State Road A1A along the beach. There is still work to be done, however.
Clemente and Kathryn Moore, executive director of SFBC, play an integral role in shaping cycling education and awareness programs in South Florida. Based on a three-year crash study at the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning and Organization (MPO), Clemente found that cyclists who are most frequently victimized include minority populations, populations with low auto ownership and low income populations.
“It becomes not just a public safety issue but a social injustice issue,” he added. “So if I’m a low income wager earner or a minority or I don’t own or operate a car, I am significantly more likely to get injured or killed getting my daily needs met in transportation related accidents.”
The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) urged Florida to take part in its Bicycle-Friendly State program that ranks each state according to its level of bicycle friendliness with bronze, silver, gold and platinum status. In the last two years more than 30 states were granted award status.
“We rank the states even if they are not a member and Florida is ranked 32 out of 50,” said Meghan Cahill, director of communications.
LAB argues that simply applying for to become a Bicycle-Friendly State membership will force Florida to take a hard look at some of the underlying problems. The states are classed according to an audit of the five Es: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation efforts.
If only a few of these five steps are adopted, it would still represent a solid step in reducing the state’s cycling related fatalities.