About two months ago, I bought a bike. About a month ago, I had my first crash. A truck turned in front of me and into a parking lot. Friday morning was the first time since the crash I’d gotten back on the bike.
Fortunately, the commute from home was uneventful. To help quell the remaining demons, I slapped a press sign on my helmet – in 175-point font so it was extra visible – and set off for a ride specifically designed for safety.
I'm headed for a ride assembled by the Florida Department of Transportation to help hip riders to proper bike safety.
The makeshift press badge, by the way, flaps in the wind against my helmet, sounding for all the world like an angry wasp in my right ear.
Once I reach the starting point, Florida State University's Doak Campbell Stadium, I meet Achilleas Kourtellis, who’s a researcher with the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research. He doesn’t believe drivers and bicyclists are incompatible, just…forgetful.
“The majority of people know the laws," Kourtellis says. "They just don’t usually apply them when they’re out there.”
But his humor underlies a problem facing the state’s pedestrian population.
“Florida is number one in [pedestrian] fatalities, based on [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] numbers. And that’s basically if you take the rate of how many people die with the population, that’s the rate. So yeah, Florida is number one; actually has double the national average.”
According to NHTSA, 490 pedestrians were killed in Florida in 2011 – a rate of two-and-a-half deaths per 100,000 people. California, with a population double that of Florida, had a rate one-third better than the Sunshine State.
So, with those statistics in mind and a police motorcycle escort to stop traffic on the roads from the stadium to downtown Tallahassee, the group of about a dozen cyclists sets off. Many were avid riders, including Alan Hanstein, who brought his mountain bike. He had to work a little harder to ride up the hill to get the to capitol.
“Yeah, it was okay. Just that hill at the end. I came in pretty close to where the road bikers were,” he said.
Hanstein regularly takes long rides and says the roads are safer now than in years past, but more can still be done.
“I think there’s always room for improvement, but definitely people are becoming more aware of bikers on the road. But they need to be careful. I always try and personally be safe myself as a biker. I’m being defensive. But obviously I hope that everybody else can do the same even if they’re in a car.”
After a short water break, it was back on the bikes and back to FSU, where DOT officials handed out bike lights and fluorescent pink and green tee shirts. The riders were all entered into a drawing for a new bike, as well. But when DOT Chief Safety Officer Lora Hollingsworth began drawing names, a funny thing happened – the first two people she called as prospective bike winners weren’t there. The third was, however -- me.
The new Schwinn, sleek and jet black with curvy lines and classic styling, is a beauty, but I couldn’t keep it. It’ll go to another good home and I’ll continue to strap on my helmet and get on my road-worn two-wheeler and remember to look both ways on the commute from work to home.