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Hurt cyclist pedals for safety

These are some of the safest places to ride your bicycle in Hillsborough County: your living room, your back yard, maybe your driveway. Anywhere except the roads. Florida is ranked the most dangerous state in the nation for bicyclists, and last year Hillsborough County had the second highest number of fatalities, according to state Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics.

Ed Datz aims to change that.

Before he was broadsided by a car as he bicycled on Davis Islands, Datz didn't pay too much attention to cyclists' rights and the harrowing road conditions cyclists endure.

He was fit, 40 years old and financially secure. Crusades were not part of his lifestyle. But the accident changed that, he said.

Datz rode out of his driveway on Prospect Road in Palma Ceia and headed for Davis Islands early Sept. 12. He had a light on the front of his bike, a flashing light on the rear, and he was wearing a helmet, he said. He was riding in one of the least traveled areas of the city.

"I felt safe on Davis Islands," he said. "But it was a false sense of security."

It was about 6:45 a.m., and the street lights were still on as Datz passed Peter O. Knight Airport. A car coming the other way turned through Datz to get to the airport driveway.

Datz's left leg was crushed, his shoulder broken. If not for his helmet, the impact of his head on the windshield likely would have killed him, he said.

"I'm a mess," he said. He has had three operations and faces another. A steel rod runs the length of his shin.

As he fidgeted at home for a month, unable to return to his marketing job at Totaltape Publishing, Datz stewed over the accident.

"I was racing with the grim reaper. I beat the reaper, but it's the last race I'll enter," he said.

The prognosis is uncertain. He may never ride again. Indeed, he may never run again _ a significant change for a man who was once a marathon runner of national standing and a top-rated cyclist in the Tampa area.

Now Datz is ready to make some changes from the sidelines. It won't be easy.

"Florida for the past decade has been the worst place for bicyclists to ride in the nation," said Dan Burden, bicycling coordinator for the DOT.

The reasons have as much to do with geography as people, he said.