Sunday, February 18, 2018
Public safety

FDOT will designate bike lanes on Clearwater causeway in wake of fatal accident

CLEARWATER — Days after a tandem bicycle was struck by a hit-and-run driver on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, leaving one rider dead and the other gravely injured, state officials say they will designate bike lanes on the causeway in an effort to make that stretch of State Road 60 safer for bicyclists.

The Florida Department of Transportation will paint bicycle symbols along the paved shoulders, where bicyclists typically travel, officially designating them as bike lanes, said agency spokeswoman Kristen Carson. The paved shoulders there are up to 5 feet wide.

"We're looking at this to see what we can do to help," Carson said, adding that FDOT officials are still trying to determine when the symbols will be placed.

Local bicyclists said Thursday that any markings or signs will add some security.

"That's better than nothing and it's better than what's out there now," said Rick Adams, sales manager at Chainwheel Drive, a Clearwater bicycle shop. "Every little thing helps. There's no doubt."

Installing rumble strips along the shoulder could be another option, Adams believes, since the noise would alert drivers when they swerve out of the lane.

Chad Horne of Clearwater said he contacted city and state officials about having signs installed on the causeway advising drivers to share the road with bicyclists. In the past, the city placed a few similar signs near Sand Key Bridge. Horne said he noticed improvement.

"Anecdotally, I can tell you I believe it has made a difference," he said, adding that he spends several months a year in Utah, where similar signs were installed. "I have noticed in those areas, there is clearly more common courtesy."

Horne said officials could place the signs temporarily along the causeway, which extends across the Intracoastal Waterway to Clearwater Beach, since the bicycle symbols won't be placed immediately. But Carson said the agency is not installing "Share the Road" signs anymore because they create clutter.

Mike Riordon, owner of City Cycle and Supply in Clearwater, said signs or markings won't always make a difference.

"The people that are speeding, not paying attention, drunk," he said, "signs don't do anything."

Local and state officials also are encouraging bicyclists to use a paved, 15-foot-wide pedestrian and bike trail on the causeway that is close to the water. But if bicyclists travel at speeds of 15 mph or faster they don't ride on the trail, which is heavily used by runners, skateboarders and dog walkers.

"If you're going at decent speeds," Adams said, "then you're forced into the road."

And some bicyclists prefer to ride in the travel lane among cars rather than on the road shoulders to avoid manhole covers and debris on the ground, Adams said.

The FDOT's plan to install bike lanes on the causeway comes days after Hilary C. Michalak, 27, and her boyfriend, Robert W. Lemon, 25, were struck by a pickup truck as they rode on the eastbound shoulder of the causeway before sunrise Monday morning.

Lemon died that day. Michalak remained in critical condition Thursday at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Christopher Patrick Weed, 29, was arrested in connection with the accident. He remained Thursday at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $125,000 bail. Weed told police he blacked out and doesn't remember hitting anything.

On Labor Day, Horne also was out bicycling on Clearwater Beach. He remembers waving to riders on a tandem bicycle. Later during his route, he spotted police cars on the causeway and stopped to talk to officers.

"My riding partner and I were just sickened with what happened," he said. "It really took the wind out of the end of our ride. It could have easily been me."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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