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Bicyclists roll out a safety mission

Alan Snel, center, talks to a group of around 60 bicyclists before a ride through Tampa last month in honor of bicyclists who had been killed. Several more died since the Oct. 1 vigil. Snel is the head of a Tampa Bay bicycling advocacy group.

SCOTT MCINTYRE | Times

Alan Snel, center, talks to a group of around 60 bicyclists before a ride through Tampa last month in honor of bicyclists who had been killed. Several more died since the Oct. 1 vigil. Snel is the head of a Tampa Bay bicycling advocacy group.

TAMPA — As people gather this morning at Flatwoods Park to celebrate biking, they'll remember the eight who are gone.

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. Brad Ash, 41.

All were killed in recent months bicycling in the Tampa Bay area.

Volunteers at today's fifth annual Bicycle Bash will hand out and fit helmets for children. Other safety equipment will be on sale.

But even on a day of celebration, the string of fatal bike crashes since July calls for an emphasis on awareness. Ishizuka, for example, was wearing a helmet, had lights on her bike and was riding in the bicycle lane when she was killed.

That's one reason bicycling advocates think it's time for action.

Alan Snel, director of South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers, an association hosting the bike event, pitched the development of a bike safety action plan to the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission. They approved it last month.

Bike advocates and law enforcement agencies said protecting bicyclists on the road comes down to what they call the three E's — education, enforcement and engineering, which means road infrastructure.

"They're starting to wake up a little bit now that the body count has risen to such a high level," said Ed Collins, whose father, LeRoy Collins Jr., died in July while biking.

Since then, Collins said, he's much more vigilant when he trades in his four wheels for two. Sometimes he's scared to ride. He and his family recently moved from Tampa to a more bike-friendly area in Hernando County.

Snel wears a reflective vest when the sun is out. He doesn't wear headphones while riding. He rides on the road because he said crash risks are higher on the sidewalk where someone pulling out from a driveway or turning the corner may not expect a bicyclist.

Snel and Collins said changing the attitudes of drivers is one of the biggest challenges in making Tampa Bay more bicycle-friendly. They said better enforcement of bike safety laws is key in making drivers share the road.

In Florida, cars have to be at least 3 feet away when passing a bicyclist.

Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said they're working together to better enforce bicycle safety laws with the help of federal grants.

Representatives from both agencies say the number of citations are up but exact numbers aren't available.

During morning and evening rush hours, there are now 24 Tampa police officers looking for violators.

Members of both agencies will be at today's bicycle celebration.

Collins will be there, too.

"It's gotten to be almost like death watch recently," he said. "Like, which one of my friends is going to die next?"

Bicyclists roll out a safety mission 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 9:23pm]
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