Tampa must do more to protect bicyclists, as evidenced by LeRoy Collins' death

Sixteen months before a 27-year-old in an SUV mortally wounded a 75-year-old bicyclist pedaling through a crosswalk, South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers sounded the alarm about bicyclist fatalities in Tampa Bay and Florida.

Federal stats showed that Florida had the most bicyclist fatalities in the country in 2007, and bicyclists are killed at such a high rate in Florida that their deaths on the roads usually mean only a few paragraphs in the local newspaper.

SWFBUD asked everyone from Tampa city officials to transportation planners to launch a public awareness campaign to alert drivers that bicycles are vehicles and that cars, trucks and buses must pass bicyclists by a space of at least 3 feet in compliance with state law.

The 75-year-old bicyclist was no ordinary bike rider. LeRoy Collins was a retired Navy admiral who was the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and the son of a former Florida governor.

He was also the dad of my bicycle friend Ed Collins.

A few years ago I told Gena Torres, a local transportation planner for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, that the public will only pay attention to bicyclists' deaths when someone prominent dies.

Which is why a local newspaper published a story on bicycling safety when ordinarily it would run a short story after a bicyclist dies.

Even before Mr. Collins tragically lost his life, SWFBUD had partnered with local police agencies and the HART public bus service to display signs advising motorists to pass cyclists with a berth of at least 3 feet and respect a bicyclist's right to be on the road.

But Margaux Manuel, an obstetrics and gynecology resident at the University of South Florida, may not have seen those bike safety messages. She was on her way to work at Tampa General Hospital when she turned her SUV left at the intersection at Brorein Street and S Hyde Park Avenue and T-boned Mr. Collins.

His death was ruled an accident.

I spoke with Ed Collins a day after his dad was killed. He said he did not want vengeance against Manuel.

But he did want justice. In a post on the SWFBUD blog, he said he thinks Manuel should be cited.

• • •

Tampa is not kind to bicyclists.

Mayor Pam Iorio claims she supports bicycling. But while dozens of cities around the nation are adding bike lanes, Iorio killed a city transportation manager's plan to stripe bike lanes on a 2.2-mile stretch of Euclid Avenue.

Why? Apparently our so-called alternative-transportation mayor thought the convenience of people who wanted to park on Euclid was of more importance than the safety of bicyclists who pedal along Euclid.

There is a culture in Tampa city government that talks about helping bicyclists and actually does very little in the way of on-road infrastructure for bicyclists. Thank goodness the Florida Department of Transportation — not the city — striped bike lanes on Nebraska Avenue and Tampa Street.

Like Tampa, other Florida cities such as Miami and St. Petersburg had horrific reputations for being unfriendly to bicyclists. But former mayors in those cities applied resources to make their cities more hospitable to bicyclists. Now St. Pete and Miami are seen as model turn-around bike cities.

Even nontraditional bike cities like Boston and Long Beach have launched bicycle programs to stripe bike lanes.

As for Tampa, we need a city mayor who will support bicycling as she does light rail and the arts.

We need our public officials to rally support to educate drivers about bicyclist safety in the same way they did to fight drunken driving and get people to wear seat belts.

Perhaps if Ms. Manuel was informed through public service announcements and messages to look out for bicyclists, Ed would still have his dad around to talk bicycling.

Alan Snel is a Tampa resident and the director of the South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, an alliance of bicycle stores.

Tampa must do more to protect bicyclists, as evidenced by LeRoy Collins' death 08/19/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 19, 2010 1:25pm]

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