Messenger Archive: Spring 2001
Ten-year Trail Access Effort Finally Pays Dividends at Wekiwa Springs State Park
By Bob Michaels
(with grateful acknowledgement to Bruce Martin for his contribution)
The work to gain access to the single-track trails inside Wekiwa Springs State Park spanned more than a decade.
The effort transcended three Park managers and finally required a bit of help from Tallahassee. But good things finally come to those who are patient.
Wekiwa Springs State Park had been a popular, yet illegal, ride area for many years. Back in the “good old days,” off-road riding in Florida was easy. There were no legal places to ride, but there were many great hiking trails and so few off-road cyclists that no one really cared.
Most off-road cyclists did not realize their riding was illegal and those who did were not concerned, as their small numbers did not bother land managers. No problem. In 1986 Wekiwa was a popular ride area for Bruce Martin and other old timers of Florida off-road cycling.
But by 1990, off-road cycling was gaining in popularity and was starting to be noticed.
Land managers began cracking down on illegal riding. Trail access advocacy began out of necessity.
In 1990 Bruce and Mighk Wilson approached Wekiwa Springs Park manager, Jim Murian, about building bike trails inside the park. Initially receiving encouragement, they scouted out some good trail opportunities and made a detailed proposal.
But the encouragement quickly turned into an absolute “no,” as Murian cited potential user conflicts and resource damage.
All along, uninvolved and unknowing off-road cyclists continued to ride the hiking trails. Those involved with advocacy also continuing riding, though more discretely and less frequently!
Access efforts continued with renewed hope when Pete Scalco became the new park manager. I moved back to Orlando in ‘92 and immediately was taken on a great ride in Wekiwa by Bruce Martin. It was sweet even if illegal.
Bruce and I approached Scalco for bike access and received another firm “no,” though he did offer access to nearby Rock Springs Preserve as a compromise.
We built a small trail loop at Rock Springs, while still yearning for the much closer and better state park itself. By 1996 advocacy had taken hold.
We stopped riding in Wekiwa altogether as bikes were only permitted on roads and horse trails that were so sandy that they were unrideable.
I scheduled a meeting with Pete Scalco and made a detailed presentation of the singletrack issue, concluding with a request for bicycle access or justification of denial.
To say the meeting went poorly would be a major understatement. He didn’t just say “no.” He used much stronger language.
Because of that meeting, I was able to meet with Larry Perry, the Park Service’s District Director. Larry has this key role because of his management skills and ability to diffuse bad situations.
He calmed down the tense situation and we directed our efforts elsewhere for a year.
The arrival of John Fillyaw as new park manager and Warren Poplin as assistant manager brought new hope as they came with great track records from their previous park assignments.
Once again, Bruce Martin and I made trail access requests. Once again, we were rejected, though nicely, and offered a new nearby property at Markham Woods.
We politely declined this new offer.
Earlier, around 1996, I had begun representing bicyclists at the state user group meetings for Florida state parks. These statewide meetings are frequently held at Wekiwa State Park because of its central location.
I began to develop a working relationship with Recreation and Park’s management in Tallahassee through these meetings and related dealings.
I would often comment about all the great relationships cyclists had with various parks around the state and mention our problems at Wekiwa.
Finally, I asked John Baust, Director of Operations for all Florida state parks for help and ideas. He asked that Larry Perry, John Fillyaw, a representative of the Florida Freewheelers here in Orlando and myself all meet to try to reach some compromise.
We had a series of meetings from late 1998 through and 2000, discussing various alternative and proposals. Val Brannon joined Bruce Martin in the group representing the Florida Freewheelers.
While all the meetings were productive, the ones we held out on the trails, away from the office setting, seemed to be the ones where the best things happened.
We proposed access only to certain singletrack trails that are beautiful but see few hikers because of their location away from the trailhead. We recognized the Florida Trail Association (FTA) was a key player in these trails.
FTA, after all, had constructed and maintains them. So FTA was brought into the discussions. FTA representatives were not happy with the idea of sharing trails, but the decision over sharing trails built on public lands was not theirs to make.
Key to the discussions was the fact that Charlie Matthews, the manager for nearby Tosohatchee State Reserve, had given cyclists access to that section of the Florida National Scenic Trail eight years ago.
The FTA was very unhappy with his decision, but the two user groups have managed to co-exist very well. Finally in the fall of 2000, our continuing efforts resulted in success.
Park management accepted a slightly modified version of the proposal we made almost two years earlier. We now have access to some great singletrack trails inside the park itself.
Val Brannon continues to serve as liaison between the Florida Freewheelers and the park management.
The key players who finally brought this ten-year effort to conclusion were John Baust, Larry Perry, and John Fillyaw of the Division of Recreation and Parks.
Each played a significant role in reaching an agreement for shared use of the Wekiwa State Park trail network, which accommodates hikers, equestrians and now, for the first time, bicyclists.
Wekiwa’s win-win conclusion was a true testament to the power of persistence—and organized advocacy!
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Florida Bicycle Association 2000 Annual Report
by Carol Wilson
FBA saw a year filled with progress and changes. Membership grew to 445, up from 345 at the end of 1999. That total included a dozen of Florida’s finest bicycling clubs.
A special thanks to Suwannee Bicycle Association, which donated $1.00 per rider from their various events! Also thanks to Tampa Bay Freewheelers and Bike Florida, who also made significant contributions to FBA in 2000.Top of the news is the Share the Road specialty license tag, which became available in the spring of 2000.
So far FBA has received over $8,000 from the tag for bicycle safety and education programs. The tag revenue is shared 50/50 with Bike Florida, after marketing and administration fees. See the article by Lyndy Lyle in this issue of the Messenger for more information on how to get yours!
During 2000 three more Bike Action workshops were conducted. The first one, Bike Action Central Florida, was held in February. Bike Action Ft. Myers was held in April, and Bike Action Miami was held in September.
Thanks to Mighk Wilson, Dan Moser and David Henderson, who worked with FBA locally to hold these workshops. The purpose of the Bike Action workshops is to increase the level of local advocacy, and that appears to be happening.
Central Florida Bicycle Advocates, a group started as a result of the original Bike Action Orlando that was held in February 1999, was further strengthened with Bike Action Central Florida. The group meets every month and has successfully tackled several area bicycle projects, including having bike lanes added to a major road resurfacing project.
Another group, the St. Petersburg Bicycle Safety Task Force, has evolved out of the Pinellas County workshop that was held in 1999 (their story).
Another accomplishment in 2000 was the publication and wide distribution of four more fantastic issues of the Florida Bicycle Messenger, certainly FBA’s most important communications tool. Randall Williams continues to serve as production editor. I served as editor for the first two issues of 2000; Deb DeVoe took over as editor for the 3rd and 4th issues.
Many people contributed articles and photos and helped with bulk mailing and distribution. Articles included updates on local bicycle advocacy groups, state and national and international politics of bicycling, touring and off-road bicycling, bicycle safety and laws, promotion of the Share the Road specialty license tag, the Florida Traffic & Bicycle Safety Education program, and other stories that reflect the diversity of Florida’s bicycling community.
Paul & Linda Hardy set up an FBA display table at numerous events, including non-cycling events such as the AARP Convention and the Florida Folk Festival, to help market the organization and to disseminate safety information. It is difficult to quantify the results of such marketing, but I think it can be safely said that the general level of awareness of FBA was significantly raised among the general public and especially among the bicycling community.
Also many free information handouts, including the various FDOT bicycle safety brochures, were given away.
A major accomplishment in 2000 is the law enforcement booklet * (in PDF format. See below if you need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download). The booklet contains information on the “hows” and “whys” of enforcing for bicycle safety, including a summary of all the relevant Florida statutes.
Thanks to Tina Russo, FBA’s President, for her early research that helped kick off the project, to Paul Hardy for continuing the project and to Mighk Wilson, who finalized the booklet based on input from many sources including Pat Pieratte, Theo Petritsch and Dwight Kingsbury in the FDOT Safety Office, Dr. Linda Crider, and Paul Casazza, a police officer on FBA’s advisory board. Thanks also goes to Randall Williams, also on FBA’s board, who readied the booklet for final printing.
FBA underwent some staffing changes in 2000. I stepped down as Executive Director in May, although I have continued to perform the essential administrative duties of the organization on a volunteer basis. I will continue in 2001 as FBA’s bookkeeper. Paul Hardy departed as Program Director in September. We appreciate Paul and Linda Hardy’s energy and commitment to FBA’s programs.
Currently FBA is undergoing a search for a new Executive Director who, given budget constraints, will serve a double role as Program Director. We hope to announce the results of that search in the next issue of the Messenger!
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Trout Creek Bridge Marks Organization of Volunteer Efforts at Wilderness Park
With a ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 3, Hillsborough County officially opened the Trout Creek Bridge at Wilderness Park.
The 60 foot pre-fabricated aluminum bridge was the result of the cooperative efforts of the Southwest Association of Mountainbike Pedalers (SWAMP), Wilderness Trails Association (WTA), Hillsborough County Parks Department, Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), Tampa Bay Water and Friends of Hillsborough County Parks.
The project began when Hillsborough County Parks, SWFWMD and some of the off-road bicyclists came together and discussed the feasibility of an off-road loop trail that would connect the three park sites (Flatwoods, Morris Bridge and Trout Creek) that comprise Wilderness Park.
A bridge across Trout Creek was needed to assure the trail would stay open year ’round, particularly through the wet part of the season.
A grant was secured with SWAMP as the facilitator for the funds. It was determined that a free-standing bridge was going to be needed as no mid-span supports were going to be allowed due to environmental issues.
Also, the bridge was going to have to be placed at an elevation that met the 100-year high water mark. An engineer was needed to draw up the plans for the bridge.
SWFWMD provided assistance in obtaining an engineer that could help with the project. It was determined that a one piece aluminum structure would meet the required needs and have the lowest life-cycle maintenance costs.
After the bridge design was decided upon, a local vendor was found who could provide the bridge.
EPEA approval was sought and Hillsborough County Parks Department assisted with acquisition of permits. The next steps involved preparation of the site, which included soil tests to determine ground stability and platform preparation.
WTA quickly ascertained that additional funds and resources were going to be needed to complete the project and meet the deadline for the grant funds.
At this juncture, SWFWMD, Tampa Bay Water and Friends of the Park came to the rescue with the additional needed funding and resources.
The bridge would have to sit on poles driven 20 feet into the ground and a vendor had to be procured to do that job. WTA volunteers, Hillsborough County Park Rangers and SWFWMD staff built the pile caps.
A crane company was hired that would set the bridge in place when it was delivered.
The park rangers completed the tread work on either side of the bridge to ready it for the grand opening event.
Tampa Bay Water was able to provide funding in conjunction with a pipeline project they were implementing that would, at some point, impact the trails at Wilderness Park.
The completion of the bridge project would reduce the impact that their project would have on trail user groups. This bridge project could not have been completed without the procurement of funds from the various agencies and the supplies and services that were also provided by them.
Officials had agreed to the loop proposal—and the bridge— provided certain conditions be met. One of the conditions was that a volunteer group would be organized.
The volunteer group would accept responsibility for assisting the park rangers in maintaining the trails and in providing kiosks for information to be disseminated to the trail users, along with marking the trails and putting up signage.
Lastly, a volunteer patrol group was to be established and trained to educate, assist and provide information to the trail users.
WTA was formed and a plan was created to decide which trails would be open for off-road recreational riding. Bicyclists, who had received training in trail design, construction and maintenance through the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), helped design and build trails.
The Wilderness Trail Steward Program was established to assist the riders using the trails. These volunteers go through an eight hour training session designed to train the trail stewards for assisting, educating and informing trail user groups. IMBA recognizes and certifies the program.
After completing the class, the volunteers can present their certificate of completion along with certification that they have completed a CPR and first aid class for membership in IMBA’s National Mountain Bike Patrol.
Ultimately, this bridge stands as a success story of what can happen when a trail user group and governmental agencies align to achieve a needed goal and coordinate resources to make a dream a reality.
Today, most mountain bikers using the WTA trails and the new bridge start their ride from one of the three trail heads (one in each park) and can complete an entire loop that ranges from 17 to 24 miles consisting mostly of biker-designed, twisted single-track through forested lowlands.
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Hidden Secrets of the Pinellas Trail
by Chip Haynes
I work for the government and I’m here to help you. No, really, I am. Stop laughing! I mean it!
I work in the Graphics Section of the Pinellas County Planning Department. Of all the things I’ve done here over the years, I’ll bet you only know me for one thing: I do the green guidebook for the Pinellas Trail.
Seen it? Of course you have. We’ve printed over a quarter of a million of them. It’s more popular than the tax notices.
I’m also a bicyclist. I do get out there and ride—often on the Pinellas Trail. Now I know that you “serious” bicyclists tend to dismiss bicycle/recreational trails as something just for the novice cyclist, and far beneath your dignity. And maybe it is. But then again, maybe you’re missing the whole point of the thing.
Of course any recreational trail is for the novice rider. It gives average people a place to start, a place to stretch their legs and try to ride that bicycle for more than just around the block.
Hey! You were a novice cyclist once yourself, you know.
If we can build up the confidence of the insecure new cyclists, who knows? They might just make this pedaling thing a regular habit!
A good recreational trail offers the chance to ride with less interference from city traffic and, around here, that’s a good thing. Plus, this one actually goes somewhere.
You’re not just doing circles around the trailer park. You can get on the Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg and ride through eight different communities, large and small, on your way to Tarpon Springs, 34 miles to the north.
It gives the casual rider a sense of accomplishment. (I rode the entire Trans-America Trail with BikeCentennial in 1976, and this “mundane” Pinellas Trail is still pretty cool.)
So bring the snob factor down a notch and go ride a recreational trail. The worst that can happen is that you might actually like it and have a good time.
OK, here’s a tip: If you’re an experienced cyclist, don’t think of a bike trail as a bike trail. Think of it as a limited access freeway for non-motorized vehicular traffic—because that’s what it is.
Think of it as a great no-traffic short cut from one part of your world to the other. For me, living in Clearwater, it’s a great way to get up to Dunedin or down to Largo.
Once I get near the neighborhood I want, I’m off the bike trail and on the side roads. Sure beats riding in traffic.
Use an urban bike trail as you might use a rural Interstate: to get you closer to where you really want to go.
No, you still can’t put your head down and crank your brains out as though you were on State Road 40 between Ocala and Ormond Beach. There’s no substitute for the wide open road—unless you haven’t got one.
And there’s no such thing as wide open around here.
One million people will sleep here in Pinellas County tonight, and one million people will spend some time on the Pinellas Trail this year.
Which brings up another valid function of a good recreational trail: social interaction.
No better place to go stylin’ and profilin’ with that spiffy new machine.
Wanna be seen? Want to get a little public reaction? The bike trail is where it’s at. Sure it’s vain and vapid, but how else will you justify that bike’s four figure price tag?
It’s not like you’re hanging with Lance Armstrong, you know. So cut yourself some slack, bring it down a notch and put it in the middle chain ring. And turn off that cycle computer. (You don’t want to know how slow you can go.)
Want the inside scoop? I can mail you a guidebook to the Pinellas Trail. It’s free. (Hey, it’s my job!)
Let me know about your experiences on the Pinellas Trail. Do you use your green book? Do you have any suggestions about how we can improve it?
Hey, if you like it, tell me that, too. I’ll get some points with the boss.
You can e-mail me at email@example.com Go ahead. I won’t tell. Really.
Hey! Chip lives to ride and rides to live in Clearwater, Florida
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Suwannee Fat Tire Festival...Fat Tires Deliver 50 Miles of Fun for Off-road Enthusiasts
by Rebecca Afonso
Every November, the Suwannee Bicycle Association hosts a Fat Tire Festival from its headquarters building in White Springs, Florida.
For 11 years, the festival has catered to riders of all skill levels, offering three days of riding, camping and eating. This November 10 through 12, the weather was perfect, the trails were in good shape, the campground had just been renovated and there were Snickers bars—all the fun-size Snickers bars you could eat.
Off-road enthusiasts, 268 in all, gathered from all over Florida, and from Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, to enjoy nearly 50 miles of scenic off-road riding along the Suwannee River. The bicyclists came for the fun and to meet old friends, make new ones, and ride, ride, ride.
Morning, afternoon and night rides were offered that included trails in Big Shoals State Forest, Anderson Springs, Holton Creek and local favorites, Gar Pond and one they call “Bridge to Bridge.”
Ride Guides—SBA volunteers from Florida and Georgia—not only assisted riders but also provided background information on foliage and history of ride areas.
New to the festival this year was the sponsorship of Cannondale, which provided the Head Shok trailer and its own bike mechanics to assist all participants.
Cannondale also donated prizes, given away during a Friday night raffle and during such contests as the Barrel Race Challenge and the Egg and Spoon Relay.
For the past two years the festival has held a “Mad Hatter’s Hash” ride on Saturday based on the “fox and hound” style of bike hashing.
Two “hares,” complete with long, white ears worn on the helmet, use flour to “hash,” or mark, a trail to a final destination, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
It sounded easy enough, except that one of the rabbits was marking a false trail.
The fun of the hash was having approximately 120 people try to figure out which was the “real” trail to the tea party
Ride Guides ensured that everyone made it to the tea party. Families and “gonzo” riders alike have taken to this Hash ride to the point of dressing up for the tea party themselves.
Photos of this year’s festival can be found on SBA’s website, www.suwanneebike.org. The next festival is scheduled for November 9-11, 2001. Word is Cannondale will be back as sponsor as will the Mad Hatter.
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Florida Traffic and Bicycle Safety Program Announces Pre-Driver’s Ed. Curriculum
by Linda Crider
The “Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” bicycle safety curriculum targets middle school-aged students, placing specific emphasis on the relationship between cycling and pre-driving skills.
Emphasizing the similarities throughout the program can be a motivating factor for teens as they prepare for driver education.
An equal effort was made in “Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” to educate today’s youth on the health, fitness and nutrition choices they make, and how cycling can be incorporated into a healthy, active lifestyle.
In addition, “Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” attempts to offer teens alternatives of vocation in bicycle repair and advocacy.
“Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” is for teachers and community youth leaders who want to implement a middle school bicycle safety curriculum in their classroom or youth program, including YMCAs, Boy/Girl Scouts and community “earn a bicycle” programs.
As a middle school curriculum, it provides a sequential link from the elementary traffic program to driver’s education and beyond. The program is flexible and interdisciplinary, allowing teachers from different content areas the opportunity to “team up” for lessons or student projects.
“Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” is richly supported with homework activities, skill sheets, class rides, video, and “real world” adventures.
“Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” is comprised of five modules:
1. Street Wise - Core lessons of bicycle handling skills, crash avoidance and rules of the road.
2. Freedom Machine - Bicycle knowledge, repair, equipment and maintenance.
3. Body Basics - Health, fitness, nutrition and exercise fundamentals.
4. Trip Tips - Mapping, planning and preparing for bicycle tours and rides.
5. Community Connection - Advocacy, political activism and awareness of cycling issues.
How can you get involved with “Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead”?
- Contact your school board/middle school principal about implementing this program.
- Plan/coordinate a workshop in your community.
- Assist with a “Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead” workshop in your area.
For more information about “Pre-Driver’s Ed…Thinking Ahead,” contact the Florida Traffic and Bicycle Safety Education Program, or visit our website: http://plaza.ufl.edu/lcrider
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by Rudy Miller
Some mountain bike racing types may not want their competition to know they train at Hardrock.
Contrary to erroneous rumors circulating among some Florida bike racers, Hardrock Cycle Park is not only alive and well, but it is open seven days a week, 361 days a year. It offers some of the most exciting and challenging off-road riding in the state.
Located just off of I-75 north of Ocala, this privately owned, commercial biking park offers just about everything a serious mountain biker could find in Florida, including a suspension bridge across Horseshoe Lake.
The unique terrain offered at Hardrock is the spoils of a mining operation during the Eisenhower era (‘50s) when I-75 was constructed. Millions of tons of lime rock were extracted from this quarry and used as the base for the new highway. Heavy machinery once moved mountains of earth to uncover the lime rock, which was then blasted and removed.
There are still remnants of the cables, tracks and an inclined tunnel where huge carloads of rock were pulled mechanically up on 60-inch wide, steel tracks (wider than standard railroad).
Today, covered by lush vegetation, the original scarring of the land appears as forested hills, rocky cliffs and a peaceful lake. Most of the park's 100 acres are dedicated to mountain biking with a gorgeous seven-mile, single track loop that twists and turns as it winds through continually challenging elevation changes.
Most of this is through dense woods with trees, vines, ferns, flowers and various types of grasses enshrouding the trail. The trail base is a hard-packed combination of lime rock and clay making it fast with good traction except right after a rain.
The famous suspension bridge is located in the first third of the loop as canyon walls squeeze the trail closer and closer to Horseshoe Lake until the only option left is to cross the water.
The bridge was built by the current park owners, Sue and Randy Keuntjes, in 1988 as part of their effort to build a national caliber racing facility on the mined land they had purchased a year earlier.
The bridge is more than 200 feet long, six feet wide and has side cables to prevent a biker from an unexpected swim. The swaying and bouncing of the span are much less noticeable scooting across the planks at speed on a mountain bike than attempting to walk across it trying to take photos.
More than 2,500 mountain bikers rode the bridge when they visited the park last year.
Sue and Randy have dedicated most of the park to mountain bike trails but have efficiently used some of the land for other purposes including parking, camping and moto-cross racing.
The motorcycle use area is fenced and gated to keep the motor-powered vehicles out of the mountain biking area.
The camping area offers full hook-ups and tenting with hot showers, clean restrooms and a laundry facility.
Also available at the park are mountain bike inner tubes and miscellaneous items and, on most weekends, there is a food vendor on site.
The charge for day use is $5 while over night tent camping is $10 and full hook-up is $20. Weekly and monthly rates are available.
Randy has just added four miles of new mountain biking trail which will be integrated with the existing trails to change the loop more than to add to it. About two weekends a year Hardrock is closed to mountain bikers so if you are driving very far it is best to first check their web site, www.hardrockmx.com, or phone 352-732-6697.
Other great off-road riding in the area that can be accessed from this campground include Razorback, 8 miles north, and Santos (see photos below and article on "America's First Land Bridge..." in the Winter 2000 Messenger), 14 miles south.
To reach Hardrock, take exit 71 east from I-75 about half a mile. Turn right on Hwy 25A at the light. Hardrock Park is 3/4 of a mile south on your left.
At the risk of spreading a rumor, Hardrock has a Surgeon General's warning: "Training at Hardrock is very dangerous to your competitors." So, if you haven't ridden Hardrock recently, you need to indulge your bike.
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Pedaling through Purgatory: Bicycle Commuting in theTampa Bay Area
by Chip Haynes
Last year, Bicycling magazine listed the Tampa Bay Area as one of the three WORST places to ride a bicycle in North America.
We are consistently number one in bike fatalities in the US. Everyone, bicycle rider or driver, has their horror stories to tell.
It is a topic of discussion on the St. Petersburg Times editorial pages and yet, in spite of all this, I still manage to ride my bicycle to work every day, through this thick metal soup of Pinellas County traffic.
Is it really that dangerous? Only if you don't think it is. I did meet a car once driving down the sidewalk, but I know neither one of us should have been there, so no blame.
As long as I follow Forrester's adage of being a legal vehicle, it keeps me out of trouble—most of the time.
I wear bright clothing (tropical print shirts) and make sure I have plenty of lights and reflectors for that pre-dawn pedal to the office. I ride on the roads—but I choose my roads carefully.
I do my best to find connecting residential back roads and limit my exposure on the busier two-lane roads as much as possible. I avoid multi-lane roads completely. Drivers don't expect to see you there.
In spite of all we hear about road rage, I don't carry a side arm, pepper spray or freon horn—just a little bicycle bell on the handlebars. It works for me.
The most likely road for a cyclist to encounter an irate motorist is a narrow two-lane road as you're churning your way uphill. You're in their way, and they don't like that (I can't imagine why!). I have two such roads on my daily commute—both in the evening, when traffic is heavier.
I try my best to time my entry on those roads to minimize traffic encounters. Still, they have to either pass me when it's safe or wait, and it’s the wait that annoys them.
Either way, I'll catch up with them at the light every time. Pretty funny stuff there.
So why is the Tampa Bay Area such a bad place to ride a bicycle? I have several theories, some of which might actually make sense:
1. We have a 12-month riding season, so of course there are more cyclists out there year-around. The safest place to ride a bicycle, statistically, is probably Fairbanks, Alaska, in February. Around here it's 24/7/365, so naturally the annual body count will be higher.
2. Most of us aren't from here. We're from out of town, or in many cases out of the country. The traffic patterns and driving habits here are not only different, they're a mix of everything from everywhere, just like the people. Makes it tough to gauge what people are going to do next.
3. Nonexistent law enforcement. Cops don't want to give bike riders a ticket. Bad press, every time. As a result, bike riders can get away with murder. (Well, suicide, technically.)
Wrong side of the street, blow through the red light, fly past the stop sign—you name it, you can do it. No problem, and no ticket.
Headphones? Sure they're illegal, but who cares? Not the police. Go ahead, ride any way you want. Who's going to stop you (other than that Buick)?
4. The Number One reason we have such a high accident rate? Easy: people are idiots. I see people on bicycles (as opposed to bicyclists) do the dumbest things on the road every day
No concept of law or personal responsibility. With so many people riding so many bicycles so badly, the only thing I can't figure out is why our bicycle fatality rate isn't infinitely higher than it is. How do these guys get away with riding like that? They often don't.
The public's common perception of a bicycle commuter is one of a person who has either lost their license (drunk driving, most likely) or is not mentally capable of holding a driver license (what I call Gump Syndrome).
Sadly, the public is often quite right. The idea that a normal, sane person would voluntarily choose to pedal a bicycle when they could be driving a car is so completely foreign to most people in America it is never even considered as a remote possibility.
If you're out there on a bike, there must be something wrong with you. To some small degree, that might work to my advantage in traffic, as few people would want to hit the obviously mentally challenged fellow on the bicycle (me). Hey, it's an unfair advantage, but I'll take it.
Do I ever feel like I'm in danger as I ride? You betcha. If I didn't, I'd probably be dead. But I do take reasonable precautions to keep from being someone else's bumper dressing.
I try to watch everything out there, all the time—Ol' Swivel Head here. What? Make eye contact? Don't bother. Drivers can look right through you and not see you, or totally misjudge your speed if they see you at all.
Eye contact means nothing. You want something to look at? Look at the top of the front tire. (It's an old motorcyclist's trick.) The top of the front tire will start doing whatever the car's going to do— before the car does it. Keep an eye on 'em!
So... You headed over my way any time soon? Don't forget to bring your bicycle, and don't be afraid to check out a good street map. There's some decent urban riding to be done here— if you're careful.
Dangerous? Yeah, well, that's life. If all you were going to do is cower in your living room behind your remote control, you probably wouldn't have bought that bicycle in the first place, now would you?
Now come on, let's go for a ride!
Keep an eye out for Chip Haynes’ colorful shirts flapping in the breeze on a Clearwater street. He’ll be watching out for you —especially if you’re in a car.
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