Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Health

Clarity on rules of the road would go a long way toward cyclist safety

As Lorrie Lykins recently reported in the Dr. Delay column in the Times, sharrows, those markings of a bicycle with arrows painted on road surfaces, will soon be more common on area roads. Within the next year, they'll be on more than 50 blocks of St. Petersburg streets, including Central Avenue from the bay to 31st Street, according to Evan Mory, the city's transportation and parking director.

Add sharrows to the sizable list of bicycle laws, regulations and signs that are confusing to riders, motorists and even police officers.

As the Florida Bicycle Association's website states, "At any given time, there is no single complete, consistent, definitive interpretation recognized throughout the state. There are provisions of the traffic laws that are enforced differently in different parts of the state, and some are scarcely enforced at all. The same terms may have the same or different meanings in the statutes and various agencies' guiding documents."

Clarity would be welcome. U.S. bicycle mortality rates are double those in other developed countries, with injury rates that are eight to 30 times higher, according to a 2007 study published in Transport Reviews. U.S. traffic engineers and bicycling advocates want to reduce that number, but with no common understanding of the rules of the road, the task is Herculean.

Take, for example, signage. The "Share the Road" signs are considered "warning signs." Their purpose is to inform motorists that bikes are likely to be on the road. But I think to many motorists the signs mean "share the lane." As previously reported, there are few travel lanes that are 14 feet wide, the minimum width, according to Florida Department of Transportation guidelines, necessary for bikes and car to coexist in the lane.

Unless there is a marked bike lane, riders should control the lane to dissuade motorists from trying to squeeze by, that is, share the lane. That's where the new sharrows come in. "When you see a sharrow, it means the road is expected to be used by cyclists with some regularity, and that the cyclist may need to be anywhere in the travel lane," Florida DOT bicycle and pedestrian coordinator DeWayne Carver said in an email. Earlier standards allowed sharrows to be placed anywhere in the lane. In early 2014, sharrows were placed on the far right of Gulf Boulevard in Pinellas County, giving the impression that cyclists must stay to the far right. Updated guidance now recommends painting sharrows in the middle of the lane. And, Carver said, they may be accompanied by a "regulatory sign" that has a bicycle symbol, below which are the words "May Use the Full Lane."

But Florida law 316.2065 allows cyclists to use the full lane whenever the lane is "too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane." So at any time, a motorist may see riders toward the middle of the lane, controlling it in a way that is meant to encourage motorists to wait until the adjacent lane is clear before passing.

That's a tough sell to some drivers. However, a study by George Hess, a professor at North Carolina State University, has found that the "May Use the Full Lane" sign helps. Its presence on roadways increases the understanding among motorists that they should wait until it's clear to pass and that bicyclists are permitted in the lane. It also increases the perception of rider safety among motorists and riders. Despite the presence of a "Full Lane" sign, though, up to 8 percent of the population didn't think cyclists should have that privilege.

A number of other cycling laws need clarification or, sometimes, complete overhauls. My experience is that drivers think if there is a bike lane, the 3-foot rule doesn't apply. But there is no exception to the law. Riders will often use the left half of a bike lane to avoid gravel near the curb or parked cars whose doors can suddenly swing open. Motorists should move to the left to give the cyclists adequate clearance — at least 3 feet.

The 3-foot rule itself is problematic. A bill filed for the next state legislative session would clarify that the measurement is from the closest portion of the car to the rider, including side-view mirrors, landscape trailers, etc.

In fact, the 3-foot rule is largely unenforceable. Courts can dismiss citations because the officer issuing a ticket cannot verify that the distance he observed was less than 3 feet. Another bill may be in the works that does away with the 3-foot rule entirely and replaces it with the same "move over" requirement that motorists passing emergency vehicles on the roadside must follow: Cars must reduce their speed to 20 mph less than the posted speed limit and, if possible, move into the adjacent lane.

The filed bill, HB 253, also explicitly allows cars to cross over any no-passing line when passing a bicyclist. It also allows groups of four or more cyclists to act as one through stop signs. Once the group stops, all cyclists may proceed through the stop sign. This is a courtesy that many motorists already give riders.

Finally, current law allows cyclists to ride two abreast but they "may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and shall ride within a single lane." This has been interpreted by some to mean that any bike rider traveling at less than the average speed, which includes most riders on most roads, cannot ride two abreast. The Florida Bicycle Association website summary of bicycle laws argues that this is an inaccurate interpretation of the law. Again, clarification is needed.

I remain convinced that a greater understanding of the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists and motorists will help improve safety. Clarifying laws and education are key, as is compliance with the law by both bike riders and motorists.

Bob Griendling is president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Contact him at [email protected]

Comments
In Pinellas, three cases of the measles revive concerns about those who don’t vaccinate

In Pinellas, three cases of the measles revive concerns about those who don’t vaccinate

Pinellas County hadn’t seen a case of measles in 20 years. Then suddenly last week it had three, all from unvaccinated people. While some local physicians were not surprised that the highly contagious virus made its way back into Tampa Bay, mo...
Published: 08/21/18
Doctors couldn’t quiet the loud, nonstop crunching noise in her head

Doctors couldn’t quiet the loud, nonstop crunching noise in her head

Maryjane Behforouz’s attempts to ignore the disturbing noise in her head always ended in failure, leaving her feeling increasingly desperate. No one seemed to know what was causing the nearly constant clicking — or sometimes crunching — sound that wa...
Published: 08/20/18
Get off your duff and work those glutes

Get off your duff and work those glutes

What would you believe to be the largest and one of the strongest muscle groups you have? Here are a few clues. It’s a muscle group in your lower body that consists of three muscles that can produce tremendous power but are often weak and neglected. ...
Published: 08/20/18
Sunday Conversation: USF’s Joann Farrell Quinn keeps an eye on EI

Sunday Conversation: USF’s Joann Farrell Quinn keeps an eye on EI

As early as the age of 5, Joann Farrell Quinn observed people. • She just enjoyed watching them. Those days represented the infant stages of her interest in human behavior, but as an adult, she ended up working in investment management."Over the year...
Published: 08/17/18
Updated: 08/19/18
Children who lived with smokers are more likely to die of lung disease as adults, study says

Children who lived with smokers are more likely to die of lung disease as adults, study says

Childhood exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to lung disease decades later, according to a study published Thursday by the American Cancer Society.For 22 years, researchers have been following more than 70,000 adults who have never smoked. At the...
Published: 08/17/18
Ready for a little conditioning? Make like a football player or cheerleader with these moves

Ready for a little conditioning? Make like a football player or cheerleader with these moves

We all gear up for gridiron season in our own way.Some of us don a favorite jersey and fly the team flag from the front porch. Others pick out the best booth at the local sports bar and slide into place for a day of pitchers and wings. And then there...
Published: 08/17/18
Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates

Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates

Drug overdose deaths surpassed 72,000 in 2017, according to provisional estimates recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents an increase of more than 6,000 deaths, or 9.5 percent, over the estimate for the pr...
Published: 08/16/18
The hardest part: actually choosing the day of his death. ‘No one is ever really ready.’

The hardest part: actually choosing the day of his death. ‘No one is ever really ready.’

In the end, it wasn’t easy for Aaron McQ to decide when to die.The 50-year-old Seattle man — a former world traveler, triathlete and cyclist — learned he had leukemia five years ago, followed by an even grimmer diagnosis in 2016: a rare form of amyot...
Published: 08/15/18
Tampa Bay sports teams join forces to assist Times correspondent Joey Johnston

Tampa Bay sports teams join forces to assist Times correspondent Joey Johnston

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lightning, Rays, Rowdies and University of South Florida have teamed up to host a two week, community wide Team Tampa Bay for Joey J 50-50 Raffle. The raffle began Aug. 13 and will ...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/19/18
Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General Hospital was ranked as Florida’s second-best hospital in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Hospital Rankings released Tuesday, while Moffitt Cancer Center was named the country’s eighth-best cancer hospital.The rankings, which analy...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18