Messenger Archive: Fall 2003

Choice and consequence

by George Bagley

Everybody's got a list. Billboard magazine charts music, home videos and untold pop phenomena (useful only if you're between 12 and 17 and plunk down at least 70 percent of your allowance at the local mall each week).

Ben & Jerry's lists their top 10 ice cream flavors (invalid since there's no chocolate chunk something or other until about number four).

For cyclists, the Mont Ventoux of lists is Bicycling magazine's best and worst cities.

Of course, most of us who ride know precisely where Florida cities historically reside...the worst of the worst.
Information like this sits somewhere in the back of our minds as we trek out Saturday mornings before the storm du jour for that 20-miler dodging black, razor-sharp macadam pebbles and the latest road kill while we choke down a virulent cocktail of carbon monoxide and seething invective from passing motorists.

We meet each challenge with steely resolve and unfailing determination. It's our choice to part from the norm, to step outside that blurred current of waxed steel, climate-controlled interiors and 6-speaker Bose sound systems with 8-inch woofers.

Not that we eschew conventional transportation. Orlando isn't Haight-Ashbury and I'm not Timothy Leary.

We like creature comforts, but there's also that familiar, silent pleasure when we step, for the umpteenth time, onto a shiny chrome-moly steel frame, or hear the sound of cleats snapping into place and the sharp, rhythmic purr of a well-lubed chain across those 53 teeth.

At times like these, our Yin and Yang are supremely ordered and all is right with the universe.
If only it were that easy.

Since in this country we validate free speech—in fact, guarantee it with the Bill of Rights—I reluctantly accept on my rides the finger salutes and epithet-laced advice from drivers who likely haven't been on a bike since grade school, and who wouldn't know a quick-release hub from a grip shifter.

Setting aside for a moment that whole Lockean thing about choice and consequence, I don't, however, accept being placed in harm's way but, the truth is, such a prospect is about as inescapable as my mom's Christmas sheet cake.

Cars and bikes in the same space: that's trouble.
So one fine winter afternoon on a back highway between Chuluota and Geneva, when some woman in her 80's-era Ford cruiser blasted my bike from a side street, face-planting me in the middle of the northbound lane, I was, predictably, miffed. (Well, at the time I was too preoccupied out there, unconscious on the blacktop with a broken rib, a broken collarbone, a concussion and a cracked tooth or two to get suitably miffed. That came later.)

The point here is that sometimes Locke's equation requires too high a price. In the realm of bicycling, our choices to ride shouldn't automatically burden us with another's poor choice on the road.

I should, for example, be able to don my favorite Giordana jersey without fearing dire injury provided, of course, I follow appropriate bike safety laws and guidelines.

That afternoon, I didn't elect to lie there crunched up in an unnatural heap in the middle of a state highway waking up to well-meaning passers-by asking me if I'm okay.

I didn't bargain for the Liberty Bell bruises on my hip, the broken bones, the conspicuous road rash on my shoulder.

I didn't ask to get strapped on a backboard, spend my evening on a hospital gurney, or for that matter see my prized Bianchi bent up like some kind of screwy clown bike in a second-rate circus.

Most of all, I didn't bargain for 19 long months-and-counting waiting for a settlement, a predicament leaving me presently with uncertainty, pointed resentment and no road bike.

We've got a long way to go around here to get it right. Sure, it's now state law to stripe state highways and roads, and this is a momentous step in the right direction for Florida, but consider other regions.
Places like Portland, Oregon, previously listed as Bicycling magazine's best city for cycling, set a wonderful bar for us here.

In Portland you can secure your bike in one of several public lock-ups downtown.

In Portland there are shower facilities at most places of business, and their idea of a bike lane is a dedicated two-lane affair adjacent to I-84, a main west commuter artery like I-4, separated from motorized traffic by waist-high concrete barricades topped by a continuous five-foot high chain link fence.

Now that's a bike lane.

Would I want to ride in Oregon every day? Perhaps, though a rain slicker and booties would be a definite clothing must.

But I like the ride here in Florida. I just don't like fighting for a few precious inches of space hoping the guy in the car behind me doesn't render me into an incoherent, drooling burden on my family for my remaining years.

Improving cycling conditions in Florida can seem a daunting task, one requiring a new mental culture—no small endeavor. (Remember Lenin and Stalin? Reversing eons of Czarist autocracy required bloody revolution, years ruthlessly pursuing and murdering potential challengers, and a state police system so intimidating that the mere mention of the Lubyanka could send the average Muscovite into a prolonged agoraphobic fit, spilling his potato pancake and vodka breakfast off the nearest table corner. And that regime didn't even last out one century.)

So where does this leave the average rider? We're at a distinct disadvantage. Motorists proliferate at a much more alarming rate than we fairly impotent cyclists.
Nobody has to tell me that riding out in my corner of Seminole County is a much more dangerous, even life-threatening affair than when I first moved out here eight years ago.

And if you're easily deterred assuming that one's personal safety is somehow more important than zipping along the roadside with a pounding lactic acid burn in your legs and a steady stream of sweat rolling down your arm into those expensive leather/gel gloves, then it leaves you either on the sidewalk or in the safety of your air-conditioned, crash-tested car passenger cabin.

On the other hand, if you just can't give up that bike, if you can't abandon that special feeling at having moved your carcass from point A to point B under your own power, a sensation bicyclists know so well, then you're in it for the long haul.
I'm convinced that, with the exception of a few steroid-driven roadhogs, the non-riding public generally wishes us no harm.

They just don't understand. After all, we've still got misinformed sheriff's deputies pulling us over for riding on the road. (When law enforcement doesn't know the law, how can we expect general motorists to?)
Education—changing the mental culture—is a protracted, graduated process dependent on small accomplishments that all riders can, and need to, engage.

It can be as simple as daily conversation. Believe me, my friends and acquaintances know Florida bicycling law.

That's because I've let them know and, yes, they probably think I'm about as myopic as a one-eyed cat, but they do know that bicycles are vehicles and entitled to the road. Maybe a few of them even cut an extra foot or two on the way home from work when they pass a rider.

Or education can be politely responsive. I make a point of calling businesses when their drivers come too close to me on the road or, worse, honk and shout, and they're usually glad for it, but it takes a lot to get them to understand.

A case in point. Last Christmas time, while riding my mountain bike near the edge of a busy two-lane road, a UPS delivery truck passed perilously close by. As he pulled even with me, he alarmingly honked and yelled that I should be on the sidewalk.

Now there are few moments for us poor two-wheelers when the forces of nature and heaven fortuitously collide and we get our voice. Call it poetic justice or educational endeavor, but this was one of those times as that UPS driver made the mistake of pulling into the neighborhood just ahead me for a delivery.

I followed, got his van number and called in to his supervisor who, marginally apologetic, explained that his behavior was unacceptable.

“I tell all our drivers to treat bicyclists the same as pedestrians,” she told me, assuming this was the key to road safety.

This is wrong thinking. I politely tried to make her understand that regarding bicyclists as pedestrians puts us exactly where that van driver said I should be: on the sidewalk. We're not pedestrians, we're vehicles, defined as such in Florida State Code with entitlement to our space on the road. Did the message get through? I don't know, but it certainly foregrounded the whole bike/car safety thing for her.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no crusader. My idea of dissent is voting Democratic in a Republican state, or cheering anyone but the Lakers to win the NBA championship.

I don't paste a share-the-road sign on the back of my bike. I view myself as simply quietly aiding the understanding of people around me.

Maybe, along with more overt political legislative efforts exercised by the more ambitious among us, this is my best bet. Meantime, I'll continue braving the elements out there, throwing myself into this whole cycling thing like a roadrunner with ADHD, and if I live long enough maybe, just maybe, that guy in the green Ford Tempo won't yell and challenge me to a fight every morning out there on SR 419

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Reflections on vehicle priorities...
Who has the right of way?

by Linda B. Crider, Ph.D.

A 9-year-old Gainesville girl riding her bicycle to school with her mother and sister recently was struck and killed by a motor vehicle.

Tragic, needless, heart wrenching… but unavoidable? NO.

Do we call these “accidents” that produce a series of circumstances that couldn't be avoided? Or are they “crashes” (now the proper term used to describe traffic related incidences often ending in fatalities or serious injuries) that didn't have to happen if people were paying attention, following the traffic rules, going the proper speed and understood the principles of safely sharing the road?

And they will be repeated and repeated, as we have seen over and over again in Gainesville, the “Bicycle Friendly City” where, despite all our efforts, signs, media support and political commitment, we still prioritize motor vehicles (and the bigger the more powerful) over the more vulnerable forms of transportation, walking and bicycling.

“We hesitate to place blame”…seems like a logical comment to this tragic ending of Valentina's life.

Did she dart out without the walk signal and the truck driver just didn't see her? Was the semi- truck driver already into his turn and she just plowed right into him, unable to stop her forward motion?

Stop and think. This is an intersection, not unlike any other in the city. Is the green for motor vehicles not also the same as the green to cross the street (simultaneously timed to the walk signal)?

The responsibility to yield and look is on the turning vehicle. But that is not the case, in this bike-friendly city.

How many of you have stepped off the curb at the walk signal, only to step back and narrowly escape the right turning (or left turning) vehicle whose driver fails to yield because they have the green?

Lucky for me I have learned to ride defensively and try to teach the same skills to as many cyclists as I can reach.
Unfortunately, the schools have not seen traffic safety as an essential part of their curriculum, as is the case in Duval County.

But there is no state mandate for that. We are too busy studying for FCAT tests.

Maybe one day—I keep hoping—there will be. It won't bring Valentina back. And it is definitely not the only thing we can do.

Last year's Archer Road crash where the dump truck driver turned right into a convenience store striking and killing the university student who was riding her bike in the designated bike lane, gave the same excuse….”I didn't see her.”

So WHY NOT? She was riding in the designated lane, along the road, with other traffic, where, if he had been paying attention, he should have seen her and known to slow and yield before turning.


So I struggle with the statements made over and over by our law enforcement officers and our judges, always giving the benefit of the doubt to the living, to the driver who confesses they didn't see the victim in the traffic stream.

Maybe some of you will understand my passion. The day after Christmas in 1996, I lost my best friend and my right arm assistant, Margaret Raynal, who along with five other cyclists were hit on St.Road 26 north of Keystone Heights.

Margaret and Doug Hill were both killed. Months—no years—of botched investigation and faulty crash reporting, ended in a closed case, with no charges to the driver of the pick up truck.
NO CHARGES for a person who, in broad daylight, with fair weather and clear visibility, struck and killed two cyclists and seriously injured four others, who were riding their bicycles along the outside edge of the roadway, 18 inches from right hand edge in single file (we know this because of the indentions that all their crankshafts made in the pavement when they were struck).

Margaret was the bicycle safety education trainer for the State of Florida. Could there have been a bigger message to this state?

It is no wonder Florida continues to rank #1 or 2 in traffic fatalities, especially those involving pedestrians and bicyclists.
The message is nobody out there listening?

wasn't looking for them.

Until our law enforcement agencies, all the way up to DHSMV, and the judicial system, understand the concept and do something about it, we will continue to see more tragedies like Valentina’s.

It is sad but it is true.

So who had the right of way? I don't really even think that is a pertinent question. Maybe that truck driver can help us do something about it, giving presentations for five years to truck driving classes (if there even are such things) using the videotapes and materials that Bike Florida and the Florida Bicycle Association have produced on sharing the road safely.
And maybe principals in this city will understand the importance of teaching traffic safety skills to children as a higher priority in their elementary and middle school curriculum.

I hope so.

Former FBA president Linda Crider is Director of Traffic and Bicycle Safety Education, Florida Department of Transportation, president of Bike Florida, mother of three and bicycle commuter.

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President's message...
Parting shots

by Tina Russo

This is my last message as president of FBA.

It has been an energizing experience, and not at all an easy task.

First, I would like to express my great appreciation for some folks who have made and make FBA a success. I gain no little comfort in knowing that there are some other insane, passionate cyclists out there.

FBA has and will make Florida a better—and safer—place to ride a bicycle.

I have said it numerous times, that FBA’s job is not an easy one. Creating a statewide driving culture (and I mean bicycle drivers as well as motor vehicle operators) that prevents the unnecessary sacrifice of life on and near the roads takes time, money and commitment.

The sad thing that I have learned and seems to be more and more the case, that fatalities and injuries to cyclists are not because they are cyclists, but that they are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

But are those tragedies preventable that seem to result merely from a tragic coincidental juxtaposition of human flesh and hurtling steel? Is there a way to minimize the “wrong places” and thereby prevent the fateful timing?

We’re dumping billions of dollars into Iraq to keep U.S. casualties from going beyond triple digits, yet shrug our shoulders at the tens of thousands yearly who are killed on U.S. roads. Would a few billion dollars for quality driver education, more enforcement and better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians make a difference?

I would like to think that it would, but some part of me believes that money alone won’t change people. It takes people to change people.

FBA’s mission to inspire and support people in their enjoyment of greater freedom and well being through bicycling implies a duty to foster the creation of an environment that allows this enjoyment. It’s going to take the efforts of a lot of people to make that happen.

And I don’t mean just other people. As a person who loves bicycling—or for that matter the idea of bicycling—FBA member or not, you have a part in this.

As FBA’s president I have felt close to Florida bicycling: the creation of new on- and off-road bikeways, the culmination of successful advocacy campaigns, the consequences of careless riding and driving.

I have personally experienced excitement, anger, sadness and frustration for bicyclists all over the state, the same kinds of emotions that got me into this job in the first place.
But I want to leave on a good note. Even though FBA’s task is not easy or in many cases the most fun, above all, we are cyclists.

No, we are more than cyclists. Cycling is something special enough and important enough in our life, that we want to give back to it.

I am an advocate because of what cycling has given and continues to give to me. Cycling has changed with me as I grow older and my life changes.

One thing still stays true, no matter what kind of bicycle I am on, no matter what reason I am riding, whether for recreation or transportation, or where I am riding, I am at peace when I am on my bicycle. That is where I belong!

So I give thanks to all who make bicycle riding possible, and I give back to help make those rides possible for all.

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How to guide a bike advocacy

by George Martin

I am certainly no expert, and we are in the early stages of our planning, but I have learned a lot recently about successful bicycle advocacy.

We sometimes feel that we don’t have any control of our own cycling destiny. But I am becoming a firm believer that we really can make a difference. There are a lot of resources out there to help our cause. We need to understand and work with them.

Most of what I have learned has come from a few months of participation on our county Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) and preparation for a recent meeting.*

The Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is composed of county commissioners, mayors of some municipalities, and other influential officials. Your county has a similar group.

The MPO determines priorities for allocation of funds for infrastructure. For our purposes, that means roadways, road shoulders, bike lanes and bike paths.
They recently met to consider bike lanes on A1A in Palm Beach County.

It is a jewel for bicyclists. There is a lot of motor vehicle traffic—obvious conflict.

Roadway conditions vary from great— marked five-foot, smooth bike lanes—to terrible—narrow roadway with no shoulder. The route passes through a number of municipalities, and the sentiments on bike facilities vary greatly.

Palm Beach County has a high casualty rate for pedestrians and bicyclists and, in the opinion of at least one bicyclist, the general population does not accept that bicycles belong on the roads. So what can we do?


Since cycling is not usually a campaign issue, we must ask them about their position and let them know we are interested voters. In other words, make it an issue.

Pretty obvious, but nobody does it. We didn’t either, but are fortunate that some key county commissioners and other officials are informed and interested. We are going to have to educate and encourage the rest.
If we relate it to quality of life, kids and safety, it seems to get more attention.

Realize that they are very busy and will react to the most visible issues. Keep your issues in front of them in a positive and assertive manner.


Jim Smith, Delray Beach, has taken bicycle and pedestrian advocacy to its highest level. Armed with all the statistics, he has met with the mayor and other Delray officials and was instrumental in the formation of a BPAC for the city.

It only takes a few people who are willing to aggressively pursue the issues to make things happen.


We must be very visible. The people who show up at public hearings are heard.

A few people can exert undue influence. Usually it is those who object to a particular issue that show up. We need to be there in numbers to stand up for our interests.

Jim was able to show the MPO 1,000 signed petitions to demonstrate that many care about improved cycling conditions.

He obtained many of those signatures by standing on A1A on Saturday mornings with a sign that said “If you care about biking on A1A, sign this petition!” People signed.


Find out what your bike club is doing to address the concerns of the cycling community. Don’t forget that you are the club.

What can you do to help the club and yourself? Get involved. The West Palm Beach Bicycle Club publicized the MPO meeting and the A1A issue in its newsletters and at the club rides.

Club members responded and many attended the meeting and spoke of various cycling concerns in the county, including kids, commuting and recreational riding.

Their presence generated a lot of discussion on these issues, and consumed almost two hours of the three-hour meeting. MPO members were actively involved in the discussions and listened to the cyclists.

If the bike clubs don’t represent the concerns of the bicyclists in the area, who will? Get out and do something for your club.


Our BPAC was able to raise the A1A issue to a high enough level of interest to get it on the MPO’s agenda.
BPAC meetings are open to the public and public comment is solicited. The committee has access and provides information to the MPO.

Many groups are represented in these committees, including government officials who make decisions about your cycling needs. The collective knowledge of the group makes it a potent force.

Get to know who is on the committee and make yourself aware of the issues being discussed. Go to the meetings. Contribute. Help your BPAC develop a long-range plan for improving the cycling conditions in the county.


We need to recognize that non-cyclists have a lot of misunderstanding about what we do.

In our case, one of the MPO members voiced a concern about the sanity of someone who would ride a bicycle on the roads adjacent to cars and trucks, even in a designated bike lane. Another didn’t understand the distinction between bike lanes and bike paths.
One didn’t think that anyone would actually want to commute to work on a bicycle.

At an MPO meeting, cyclists can answer these questions, and provide information that will help MPO members understand that cycling in the roadway is a safe, acceptable, and even a preferred means of transportation for some of us, and that there is a need for pathways apart from the roads for others.
We are preparing a brochure to show the differences between bike lanes, shoulders, and multi-use pathways. Once the MPO and other officials understand the many benefits of cycling to the community as a whole, we believe there will be even more support.


Look at all the possibilities and assume they can be accomplished. We have a lot of big plans and long way to go, but the results of our MPO meeting were very encouraging.

They were very receptive to the immediate issues we presented, and we are optimistic that we will receive favorable consideration of other longer-range plans that will be developed in the BPAC.

With the present level of enthusiasm and participation of our bike club, the BPAC and the cycling community in general, we are confident the future holds many significant improvements for cycling in Palm Beach County.

*Others such as Broward county’s bike/ped coordinator Mark Horowitz are well into the development of their plans and could tell a lot more about the how-to of bicycle advocacy from the perspective of someone who has already been very successful.

George Martin is a Bicycle Safety Educator with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, president of the West Palm Beach Bicycle Club, member of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and a League Certified Instructor. He is FBA’s newest board

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Strategery* at the Thunderhead Ranch

By Mighk Wilson

Getting to the Thunder-head Ranch in Wyoming is no simple task. After five hours in the air to Jackson Hole you have to drive two hours east,

through the little cow-town/tourist-town of Dubois (DOO-boys), and eight miles up a dirt road.

This is remote country. Florida's Orange County has nearly 1,000 persons per square mile; Wyoming's Fremont County has less than four.

The ranch sits at about 7,000 feet along the east fork of the Wind River. To the south you can see the Wind River Mountains; to the north the Absarokas Range.
The ranch abuts the Spence-Moriarity Wildlife Habitat Management Area, which hosts about 4,000 elk each winter. We came upon a carcass of a grizzly bear cub on one our rides.

Such remoteness is just what's needed when you want to keep people focused and together. Cell-phone reception is sketchy here; those who felt the need to use their phones had to climb a steep, 200-foot high hill and then negotiate the loose, rocky soil on the way down. Hence, no annoying interruptions during meetings.

Every year the Thunderhead Alliance— the national coalition of local, state and national bicycle advocacy organizations— holds a retreat at which members share their respective experiences in the advocacy trenches and collectively explore ways in which Thunderhead can help the state and local groups do better jobs. (You may have noticed: Thunderhead Alliance/Thunderhead Ranch—which came first? The ranch. The group informally called itself the "Thunderhead Alliance" after holding its first meeting at the Ranch, and the name stuck as it gelled into a formal organization.)

This year, three FBA members attended the August 2 to 5 retreat: executive director Laura Hallam (who now serves on the board of Thunderhead), advisory board member, cinematographer, and founder of the original FBA, Robert Seidler, and myself. Former Tallahassee bike coordinator Greg Wilson also attended, representing FBA's “Portland, Oregon office.”

Over 50 people in all filled the big old barn and dorm-style rooms of the ranch, from "old guard" folks like Randy Neufeld of Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, to individuals representing very small upstart groups with no formalized structure.

Each day started with impromptu bike rides up the valley, spotting coyotes and hawks (skinny-tire bikes need not apply).

After a communal breakfast we went to work, attending breakout sessions in and around the barn on everything from membership development and grant writing, to cutting-edge media strategies and “cracking the car culture/creating a bike culture.”

At the close of each breakout session the groups would identify things the Thunderhead Alliance could do to help the state and local organizations. A key concern through the weekend was the threatened elimination of the Federal Enhancement Program included in a bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee (Happily this issue was resolved by passage of the Petri-Olver amendment to restore Transportation Enhancements funding in fiscal year 2004).

We developed what President Bush might call a “strategery” to defeat the evil components of the bill.
We'd usually have a couple hours between the last session and dinner to head out for another ride. One took us up a steep climb to a pass at 8,000 feet, where one could look up the Wiggins Fork to the 13,000-foot peaks of the Absarokas.

A beautiful stretch of singletrack enticed us a mile or so down the other side, until we decided it'd be prudent—if we wished to have dinner and get back before dark—to head back to the ranch.

Each day ended with drinking and singing around the campfire. One might think mosquitoes wouldn't be a concern out here in these dry foothills. One would think wrong.

We give so much for the sake of better bicycling, why not a little blood?

For more information about Thunderhead Alliance, see

* Strategery: Bushism for that other word.

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Riding the Interstate

By Dwight Kingsbury

After the ITE annual meeting ended in Seattle on Wednesday evening, I caught a Sound Transit express bus to Lakewood, south of Tacoma, where my parents live.

The next morning I set up my Bike Friday New World Tourist. I thought it would be fun to ride to Dupont, an old town at the southern end of Puget Sound.

From Lakewood, there are two ways to travel through Fort Lewis to reach Dupont. One is the Dupont-Steilacoom Road. The other is I-5.

Although the Dupont-Steilacoom Road was marked in red ("Moderate to heavy traffic road without wide lane or paved shoulders") on the Pierce County bicycle map, I figured the traffic couldn't be as heavy as on I-5.

South of Steilacoom, Union Avenue entered the woods of Fort Lewis. Paved shoulders ended at this point. Traffic was not heavy, but the two-lane highway had long tangent sections where drivers were evidently used to going fast; one of them honked as he swerved around me.

A little further on, near a firing range, the highway had rough paved shoulders, which the NWT's touring tires handled fine. After riding around Dupont, though, I decided to return to Lakewood on I-5.

On the bike map, the section of I-5 open to cyclists was marked in magenta ("Moderate to heavy traffic road with wide lane or paved shoulder"). A sign on the entrance ramp announced


On sections of Interstate highways closed to cyclists in Washington, the word BICYCLES appears between PEDESTRIANS and HITCHHIKERS.

Traffic was heavy, even in mid-afternoon, and I generally rode four or five feet to the right of the edge line. The speed limit was 60 mph, and each passing tractor-trailer rig created a momentary drafting effect.

After six miles, I came to the Gravelly Lake/McChord Air Force Base exit, where alternative bicycle routes are available.


warned two signs.

The next day I ventured further south, to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, riding I-5 both ways. It was on the return trip, in late afternoon, that I discovered a curious asymmetry in the steel truss bridges that carry I-5 traffic across the Nisqually River.

On the southbound span that I rode over in the morning, the shoulder is about six feet wide. On the northbound span, the shoulder seemed no more than 4 feet wide, although I did not stop to measure it.

At a couple points, I had to pass cars stopped on the shoulder. One car had been stopped by a patrol officer, whose own car was parked only a few feet off the traveled way. I slowed down to ascertain that he was not about to open his door, and passed.
At each exit ramp, I glanced over my shoulder to check for vehicles preparing to exit. If none were approaching, I cut diagonally across the exit ramp.

Entrance ramps, for some reason, often had more traffic than entrance ramps. I had to stop at some of them and wait for a gap to cross.

It was the Friday afternoon before Labor Day weekend. On the adjacent roadway, 60 cars, trucks, and motorcycles were passing me every minute, except when congestion ahead forced traffic to slow, which was often.

Then I rode as fast as traffic, or even faster, and the noise, the dull roar, would subside for a moment. At such moments, I would take a swig on my water bottle.

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Car crash leads to racing, then bike/ped coordinator job

by Raphael Clemente

It all started with a $300 bike, a crashed car, and a desire to get back in shape after six months of doing nothing.

I'd been a competitive swimmer all through high school and into college, but finally had enough of it and quit in July of 1988.

That December, while doing some last-minute shopping for Christmas gifts, I saw a road bike in the window of a sporting goods store. On an impulse I bought the bike and started riding a few times a week.

I really enjoyed the exercise…especially since it didn't involve looking at the bottom of a pool…and I remember bragging to my friends that I could ride 20 miles. If I only had known what was just around the corner.

On Valentine's Day of '89 my girlfriend totaled my car. Neither of us had the money to replace it, so I rode my bike…a lot!

Round-trip from my house to the campus was 40 miles, and I had classes four days a week, plus work, plus anything else I needed to do. As the weeks passed I got stronger and stronger and even started timing myself on my trips to school and work.

That May I got a part-time job at a bike shop on my route to school. Through the shop I met people who raced and trained seriously. They invited me on rides and after a few weeks talked me into entering a race, the citizen's category of the Sunshine State Games.

The race finished in a field sprint and somehow I came across the line first. The speed of the race and the excitement of the finish was incredible, and from that moment on I was hooked! I stood on the podium with my medal, a clueless 20-year-old with no idea about the fantastic journey I was about to begin.

I got a USCF license, and it wasn't long before I was being tutored by the best local riders. They became my mentors and great friends. Over the next couple of years, through a rollercoaster ride of successes and failures, I managed to win a few races and by the end of 1991 I was racing as a USCF Category 1 amateur.

My college classes, job, and everything else became less important. I'd made up my mind that I wanted to become a professional cyclist, race in Europe, and go all the way. At the end of the 1991 season I sent my cycling resume to teams all over the US and to a few small amateur outfits in Europe.

The spring of 1992 was my first taste of full-time cycling. I took one class that semester and quit my job. Eat, sleep, ride— that was it. I trained like a madman, and when the spring racing started in March I was consistently placing in the top five against some of the country's best pros. Things were looking great and I made plans to spend the entire season racing the national circuit.

One evening in late March I got a phone call. The guy on the other end of the line didn't speak English very well, but from what I could gather he wanted me to race for his team. He said that I'd have to be there in two weeks. "Great!" I said, almost forgetting to ask where he was calling from.

“Amsterdam” he said.

“Holland?” I asked.

“Yes, Holland,” he replied.

Within minutes of hanging up the phone I collected all my fishing poles, two surfboards, three cameras, my toolbox, some spare bike parts and various other items that I decided I didn't need anymore and went down to the local pawn shop. The next morning I had a ticket from Ft. Lauderdale to Amsterdam with an open ended return.
Racing in Europe was hard and relentless. I suffered in every single race at first, often getting dropped. Eventually I started placing well, which buoyed my hopes for success and kept me focused and training hard.

After a few strong performances, my team manager designated me team leader in races that suited my ability. But it wasn't to be. I left Europe without getting the big results that I needed to be noticed by a pro squad.

After that I was mostly on home soil and racing for various small Pro/Am teams, with trips to Canada and Central and South America for stage races. My experience slowly caught up with my strength, enabling me to race more consistently and in 1994 I had 13 wins, often against the best riders of that time.

I continued to race on the national circuit until 1996, with the focus of my training being the '96 Olympic Trials. That year was the first time the International Olympic Committee allowed professionals to compete in cycling events, so all of the US-based pros, as well as all of the European-based American riders were competing for a shot to go to the Atlanta Olympics.

I came into the Trials in excellent shape and even though I did not make the Olympic team, I had an excellent performance, placing 12th in one of the most difficult races I've ever done.

Satisfied that I had given racing my all, I decided to work for a living rather than live out of a suitcase, dashing from town to town risking my life for $50 primes. Somehow between all the traveling and racing I managed to finish my bachelor's degree (it took me seven years!) and started teaching high school history and social studies.

Shortly after I started teaching, a friend offered me a job. He was a developer and needed someone to manage wetland mitigation projects to assure compliance with environmental regulations. The pay was considerably better than what I was getting in the classroom, so I jumped head-first into the swamps of South Florida.

The learning curve was steep, the work was back-breaking, and the mosquitoes were thick. As time passed, my job responsibilities put me behind a desk rather than in a pair of hip-waders and I started managing large development projects. Despite the good money I was making, it was increasingly difficult to feel good about what I was doing, since I saw the development patterns in South Florida as damaging to quality of life and the environment.

I continued to race locally, and in late 1997 met my future wife, Lois, while on a training ride. She was preparing to go to law school, and in August of '98 she started her first year in Miami. The program there didn't suit her style, and after a little searching she decided that the University of Hawaii had just what she was looking for. Being a long-time surfer and lover of the ocean it took all of two seconds to convince me to go along.

While in Hawaii I went back to teaching high school. My main form of exercise out there was surfing, and I only rode to commute to work or on the occasional off-road ride. Lois studied hard in between all the surfing, hiking, mountain biking, whale watching, camping and getting married and she graduated with a law degree in 2000.

Hawaii was ridiculously expensive, jobs were few and far between, and we were broke. We talked about moving home, and at some point I decided that I wanted to get a master’s degree. I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I was interested in environmental protection, much of which was the result of my experience with the wetland mitigation projects. Lois suggested a degree in urban planning.

We returned to Florida in August of 2000. Lois took the bar exam, and I went full speed ahead on my degree in environmental planning. By May of 2002 I had my master’s, a job with a consulting firm, and had resumed racing the bike again. My stint as a consultant lasted until October of 2002, when I accepted a position with Palm Beach County's Current Planning Division.

(Flashback to 1997: Kathy Holt, who I knew through racing, called me on the phone and asked if I'd help out with getting a specialty license plate pushed through Tallahassee. "Share the Road tag" she said.

I told her I was game, so she sent me a bunch of petition forms and I went about getting everyone I saw to sign one. I even started doing some advocacy work, attending FDOT meetings, talking to mayors, town councils, and the like about getting bicycle lanes on our roads. I mostly got doors slammed in my face.

I called the county bicycle/pedestrian coordinator and asked him to help. He told me "good luck" and that he really didn't want to stir up a beehive of problems. Since I thought it was his job to stir up the beehive, I gave him some flack. I continued to give him flack leaving for Hawaii in ’98.)

Last March, while working with the county's Planning Department, I spoke to the same bike/ped coordinator about an upcoming FDOT meeting regarding bicycle lanes on State Road A1A. He told me where and when, and that he would not be attending. As I grumbled and growled he told me he was retiring and wanted me to fill his position.

Surprised, I said I'd be honored and went about asking what I needed to do. A couple of days later he gave my resume to his boss and personally recommended me for the job. A month after that I was in my new position as Palm Beach County's bicycle, pedestrian and greenways coordinator. After all the flack I gave that guy, I owe him a tremendous amount of gratitude for going out of his way for me.

Could I be happier with my job? Well, if I could somehow get surfing wrapped into my job description, then maybe; otherwise, no. I get to work on things that I've always thought were important. My education, passion, and experience have all led me to this point. Best of all, I have an opportunity to make South Florida a better, safer, more livable place for everyone.

Here I am, nearly 15 years down the road. How could I have known that the seemingly unfortunate event of losing my car would open doors to so many wonderful opportunities and experiences?

It's been a fascinating journey from 20-year old bicycle racer to where I am now. So far, it looks like this is going to be just as exciting, challenging, frustrating and rewarding as racing ever was.

back to the top

This Issue:

Choice and consequence

Right of way

Parting shots

Guiding advocacy

Thunderhead ranch

Riding the interstate



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