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Hurt Tampa cyclist pedals for safety

These are some of the safest places to ride your bicycle: 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. Pinellas is ranked the third most dangerous county.

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 road conditions that are harrowing for cyclists.

Datz, 40, rode out of his driveway 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 was wearing a helmet, he said. He was riding in one of the least traveled areas of the city.

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.

At home for a month, unable to return to his marketing job at Totaltape Publishing, Datz stewed.

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.

"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.

Unlike the North, where drivers must travel slower on roads that were designed for slower vehicles, Florida's roads are veritable speedways.

Ninety-one cyclists were killed in Florida in 1989, according to DOT statistics. Ten of them died in Hillsborough County. Dade County was at the top of the fatalities list with 13.

"Your area has a severe problem," Burden said of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which had a combined 20 fatalities last year. "It's literally like a war zone."

There were 416 reported injuries that required medical attention, Burden said. DOT can compile numbers only on injured cyclists who seek medical attention or file a report with the police.

Datz has some ideas to lower the number of bicycle accidents in Hillsborough County.

First, he said, bicycle lanes ought to be put on Bayshore Boulevard and Davis Islands, two of the most popular places for riders. He also would like traffic rerouted on the Bayshore during certain weekend hours to allow cyclists to ride unmolested.

State and local officials have begun to address the issue.

Burden said the state's plan is keyed to building roads that give cyclists some breathing room.

Just as important as overhauling the roads is a change of attitude, Burden said. Drivers must accept that they are not the only taxpayers on the roads.

Since the accident bettering the lot of cyclists has become Ed Datz's cause.

"It comes right behind my commitment to my family and my commitment to my work. It's one of the most important things in my life."