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Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in FBA | 0 comments

Moving the rock

Today’s guest blogger is Ron Cunningham of Bike Florida:

I live in a university city, Gainesville, that on the whole is known for its progressive – dare I say, liberal? – ways.  But while Gainesville professes to be a “Complete Streets” community, our city commission recently went through the awkward contortions of first installing and then removing bicycle lanes from a section of NW 8th Avenue that runs through a nature preserve and past a public park to an elementary school.

Why? Basically, motorists complained that narrowing 8th to accommodate cyclists forced them to drive slower than they would like.  Meanwhile, not far away from 8th is county-maintained NW 16th Ave. – a 4-lane urban throughway that was originally over-designed to facilitate the need for speed. NW 16 is undergoing a  facelift of sorts. Although county engineers refused to narrow lane widths, add bike lanes or implement other traffic calming measures, they did put down sharrows to, hopefully, remind motorists that, yes, bicyclists belong in traffic too.

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Ron Cunningham, Executive Director of Bike Florida

I mention these two local setbacks not to dis my community.  I love this town and by and large still consider it to be quite bikable. But rather to make the point that working to make cycling a safer and more convenient form of transportation in our auto-centric culture often feels like a one-step-forward, two-steps-back process. Cycling advocates may be forgiven if they relate to Sisyphus, forever pushing the rock up that hill, measuring progress in increments.

Sisyphus certainly came to mind while reading a newly released report from the Centers for Disease Control with the grim title “Bicyclist Deaths Associated with Motor Vehicle Traffic — United States, 1975–2012” (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm6431.pdf) There’s nothing especially new or surprising in the CDC’s findings. Indeed, it all has a rather depressingly familiar feel to it.

“Physical activity, including bicycling, is linked with multiple health benefits.” it begins on an optimistic note. “However, although bicycles account for only about 1% of trips across all modes of transportation, on a per trip basis, bicyclists die on U.S. roads at a rate double that of vehicle occupants.”

And Florida is singled out for having the “smallest decrease” in bicycle mortality rates in the nation over that time period.  Which is not to say the CDD report is all bad news. It’s not. But it is a sober reminder that we still have a lot of work to do on bike-ped safety in The Sunshine State.

The CDC reports that child bicycle-related mortality rates have decreased by an impressive 92 percent, which sounds great at first blush. But the primary reason for that seems to be that far fewer parents today allow their children to ride bicycles than was the case in 1975.

Meanwhile, mortality rates for adults aged 35-54 tripled over that time period, with male cyclists being six times more likely to die than female cyclists.

Again, no surprise: The big growth in cycling over those years has occurred among adults – and especially among men.  Although cycling still accounts for only about 1 percent of total trips, the CDC points out that between 2000-2012 “the number of U.S. workers who traveled to work by bicycle increased 61%.” The biggest upsurge in cycling popularity over that time “has occurred among men aged 25–64 years, whereas cycling rates have remained steady for women and have fallen among children.”

Bottom line: Cycling is still a risky business on too many American streets. And that’s not acceptable.  Still, there is reason for optimism. Nationwide statistics are a poor indicator of what individual communities may be doing to improve cycling safety. The old rallying cry “Think globally, act locally” still very much applies.

As the CDC notes, “some U.S. cities have higher bicycle use and lower mortality rates than the United States overall. Many have implemented multifaceted, integrated approaches to bicycling that address safety while also promoting cycling.”

Among those approaches: Traffic calming, bike lanes, Safe Routes to Schools programs, education and enforcement campaigns to modify both cyclist and motorist behavior and more.

Indeed, even in Florida – with arguably the nation’s worst cycling mortality reputation – many communities are working hard to make bike-ped safety a priority.

“Multifaceted approaches to bicycle road safety are likely needed to ensure bicycling safety for all,” the CDC concludes.

And so we cycling advocates must resolve to work ever harder to help our communities become more bike-and-ped friendly. Even if that means occasionally taking a step or two back in the process of moving forward.

Bike Florida is hosting its third annual Share The Road Celebration of Cycling weekend in the City of Clermont, Nov. 13-15. (http://www.sharetheroad.org/celebration-of-cycling-2015/The heart of our program, on Friday, Nov. 13, is a day long series of presentations and panel discussions focusing on what some Florida communities (Orlando, Gainesville, Clermont, Tampa Bay, Winter Garden and others) are doing to make their streets safer and more inviting for walkers and cyclists.

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Florida Department of Transportation Dist. 1 Sec. Billy Hattaway  will be on hand to talk about the state’s latest Complete Streets and road diet standards. Senate President Andy Gardiner will discuss the expansion of Florida’s network of greenways and trails. And the day will conclude with our annual Florida Bike-Ped Safety Summit, which this year will focus on the role of law enforcement in improving bike-ped safety.

In addition, we will hold our annual Share The Road Awards Banquet on Saturday, Nov. 14, to honor individuals and bicycle organizations that have made outstanding contributions to safe cycling in Florida. Our keynote speaker is Diane Travis, a Clermont city council member and renown triathlete who lost her fiancé in a cycling accident and, out of that tragedy, resolved to work harder make her city a Bike Friendly Community. Diane has a compelling story to tell, and she will send you home energized and resolved to keep working back home for safe cycling.

Please join us in Clermont November 13-15. As an added bonus, it’s the same weekend as the Florida Freewheeler’s Horrible Hundred ride, so there will be lost of opportunities to actually ride a bike as well as talk about cycling.

Working for safe cycling can be a tough, often frustrating job. But we need to keep in mind that cycling is worth celebrating as well. Come help us celebrate.

Ron Cunningham is Executive Director of Bike Florida. Prior to that, he was in the newspaper business for 40 years and served as Tallahassee Bureau Chief, higher education reporter and editorial page editor of the Gainesville Sun.

Editor’s note:  Bike Florida and Florida Bicycle Association share a common cause in bicycle education for residents and visitors to the Sunshine “Bike-Ped” State.  Share the Road license plate proceeds benefit Bike Florida and Florida Bicycle Association to further these bicycle educational efforts.  What’s on your motor vehicle?  Get the Share the Road license plate!

Did you know Rejjee is the only nation-wide multi-product registry and crowd sourced Lost & Found that includes discount product replacement offers on bicycles?  Rejjee also supports Florida Bicycle Association and FBA supports Rejjee.

Do you have a bicycle story to tell?  Photos to share?  Be our guest and be our next guest blogger!  Send your story and photos to Becky@floridabicycle.org.  Speaking of stories, our quarterly Messenger newsletter is available online for your internet reading pleasure.  Visit the FBA website Home page or click here.

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