TAMPA — It's probably just a fluke. Bicycling advocates are not exhaling yet. After all, most of Hillsborough County's ideas for a more bicycle-friendly community have not been implemented.
Still, bicycling advocate Jose Menendez says he is heartened by the fact that in the first three months of 2013, there have been no fatal bicycle crashes in all of Hillsborough.
He tracks bicycle deaths and says this has been the safest first quarter in 20 years, which is notable after a particularly deadly 2012. Thirteen bicyclists died last year in a county that has averaged eight deaths a year since 1998, according to state data.
So far this year, two bicyclists have died in Pinellas and one in Pasco.
Meanwhile, Tampa police are reporting an unusual spate of motorcycle deaths.
Seven motorcyclists have died in crashes in Tampa alone so far this year, compared to the two fatalities this time last year. A total of 11 died in 2012.
"I really wish we had a good reason for why this is happening," said Tampa police homicide Detective Pat Messmer. "But I definitely do think that we are seeing a whole lot more crashes involving alcohol or drugs."
At least four of the seven motorcyclists who died were legally intoxicated, Messmer said.
Motorcycles are already harder to operate than most vehicles, the detective said. Add alcohol to the equation — and perhaps low visibility — and you have a dangerous scenario, he said.
Messmer advises motorcyclists to wear bright, reflective gear and check their headlights before each ride. Also, simply wearing a helmet isn't enough, he said. The detective remembers one crash in which the motorcyclist's helmet fell off during the crash.
"Make sure it's Department of Transportation-approved and well-fit," he said.
Meanwhile, on the bicycling front, Menendez says the Tampa Bay community still has plenty of work to do to make the area more bicycle-friendly.
"I'm very pleased that we haven't had any bike fatalities so far," he said. "That's what I've been hoping for. It'd be nice if we could go all year without one. But I'm not that optimistic."
Hillsborough County still has many ideas in its 2011 Countywide Bicycle Safety Action Plan that could be implemented. And Tampa has laid out some additional thoughts in the city's InVision plan, including a multipurpose trail called the "east-west Green Spine" that would run from the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, down Nuccio Parkway, through downtown, over the river, past the University of Tampa and out to West Tampa.
Jim Shirk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, says he considers the absence of bicycle deaths in 2013 to be pure luck.
He'd like to see separated bicycle lanes on Tampa's roads.
"We've been fortunate, and we'll take every bit of luck we can get," Shirk said. "But we want to replace luck with solid achievement and solid changes in behavior."
He plans to attend next week's national bike safety summit in Tampa, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood plans to attend the event Thursday.
The day will start with a bicycle safety expo and end in the afternoon with a roundtable. It is open to the public, though space will be limited in the afternoon session. Reservations can be made at www.surveymonkey.com/s/FLbikesummit.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.