TAMPA — A 64-year-old bicyclist was killed before dawn Tuesday by a motorist who apparently could not see him in the dark.
It was the ninth bicycle fatality in recent months, stirring questions about bike safety and the notoriously dangerous streets of Tampa Bay.
Gena Torres, a senior transportation planner with Hillsborough County, said it pains her to see so many bicycle fatalities.
"It's sickening," she said. "There's fault on both sides, but our area seems to be very devoid of motorists who have consideration for the fact that there are cyclists sharing the road."
But motorists are not always to blame.
In this case, the unidentified bicyclist was riding north on U.S. 41, a stretch with no streetlights. He was wearing dark clothes, did not have lights on his bike and was not wearing a helmet, a passenger in the car that hit him said.
No one was charged in the accident, and no charges have been filed in most of the other eight bicycle fatalities since July.
In recent years, bicyclists in fatal crashes have been at fault more often than motorists, said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
In four fatal crashes handled by Tampa police this year, bicyclist error was blamed in one and shared blame with the driver in another, records show. Another crash was the driver's fault. In 2009, bicyclists caused two of three fatal bike crashes. In 2008, bicyclists were faulted in the city's two fatal bicycle accidents. The rest of the cases could not be determined.
In Tuesday's crash, Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the bicyclist was northbound on U.S. 41 about 5:15 a.m. near St. Paul Street, more than 90 minutes before sunrise. Troopers said the cyclist was riding in the outside lane of U.S. 41 when the right front of a Jeep driven by Kenneth Brown of Tampa struck the bike from behind.
The cyclist was pushed onto the shoulder of the road and thrown into a power pole, striking it about 6 feet from the ground. The mangled bicycle landed to the side of the road. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Liz Brown sat on the curb with her head in her hands. Brown said her husband was driving them to get her favorite spiced coffee when the crash happened.
The couple didn't see the bicyclist in time to avoid the crash. "I just wish it wouldn't have happened," Mrs. Brown. "I wish he would have had lights on his bike."
Her husband nearly hit a car in the next lane as he tried to avoid the bicyclist, she said. "We swerved as much as we could," she said, wiping away tears.
Bicycling safety advocate Alan Snel said motorists and bicyclists must learn to properly share the road. And bicyclists need reflective clothing and lights on both wheels when riding in the dark.
"Light yourself up like a Christmas tree," Snel said.
Six cyclists died during a six-week stretch this summer. Tuesday's crash is the ninth fatal bicycle crash in recent months across the region. The other bicyclists killed were Anthony G. Weeks, 33; Diane Vega, 53; Kayoko Ishizuka, 30; Neil Alan Smith, 48; Stephen Allen Ivey, 52; Joe Dyals, 46; LeRoy "Roy" Collins Jr., 75; and Brad Ash, 41.
Torres said part of the solution is to add more bike lanes and take steps to slow traffic in certain areas.
"The solution is not just to try and rid the roads of bicyclists and put them on a trail," she said. "A bicycle is a vehicle."