"There is only one road and it is up to bicyclists and motorists to treat each other with care and respect. Strict adherence to the law is the foundation for this respect." — Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide
During my nearly 15 years of working and living in St. Petersburg, I've always resided south of Central Avenue. As a motorist whose office was downtown and who regularly frequents downtown businesses and entertainment venues, I always have driven either Fourth Street S or Third Street S. I prefer Third Street because I love driving over Thrill Hill, seeing the colorful boats at the Harborage, passing the Poynter Institute and stopping in at the Salvador Dalí Museum, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg library and Barnes & Noble.
To me, Third Street S is one of the best stretches of asphalt in the city. That is the good side. But there is another side that often troubles me and thousands of other motorists: Third Street is one of the most popular bicycle routes in the city.
Several times a month, I find myself stuck behind 20 or more cyclists, all on high-performance machines. I say stuck because Third Street, with clearly marked bike lanes, is wide enough for bicycles and autos to easily move past one another.
These cyclists aren't out for mere leisure as I am. Most are serious enthusiasts or competitive racers. They're the ones you would expect to strictly follow Florida bicycle laws. All too often, however, many violate the law. Such violations put cyclists at a potentially fatal disadvantage. Further, motorists who injure or kill cyclists often face years, if not a lifetime, of financial and psychological trouble.
As one who drives a truck and rides a bike, I know the lane law as it pertains to riding on roads such as Third Street.
In part, the law states: "A bicyclist who is not traveling at the same speed of other traffic must ride in a designated bike lane or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. A bicyclist may leave the right-most portion of the road in the following situations: when passing, making a left turn, to avoid road hazards, or when a lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to share safely. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions existing, and shall ride within a single lane."
Whenever I'm behind cyclists riding two abreast on Third, I brace for what I call the lane gambit, when the pack mentality takes over the group: As a vehicle approaches from behind, one or more cyclists will move to the left and out of the bike lane, causing motorists to reduce speed or move close to the center line, sometimes into the other lane of traffic. This maneuver is illegal. Cyclists know it.
I hold my breath at such moments because I have seen a few motorists become so enraged that they refuse to move over, or barely move over, driving perilously close to the cyclists, though the law requires a 3-foot cushion. Some blow their horns, yell and hog the bike lane at Third Street and Sixth Avenue S, sometimes blocking the cyclists' path until the light changes. This maneuver is illegal. The motorists know it.
Any chance for courtesy disappears. Each camp is ready to do battle. This mix of angry motorists and cyclists is particularly dangerous for unprotected cyclists who are vulnerable from the moment they mount their machines to the moment they dismount them.
St. Petersburg is making headway in becoming a bike-friendly city. It will not soon become the Netherlands, but it can become a place where cyclists and drivers safely coexist. They must learn to share the only roads we have, adjust their attitudes and remember that strict adherence to the law is the foundation for the respect that is needed.