The stretch of 30th Avenue N where 20 cyclists were mowed down by a car Sunday morning has one thing in common with more than 90 percent of the roads in Pinellas County: It has no bike lane, the 4- to 6-foot-wide strip of asphalt that separates bicycles from vehicle traffic.
James Hirschburger, a cyclist whose bike jumped the curb and crashed on the side of the road during Sunday's accident, said bike lanes would not have prevented it. Joseph D. Pastore, 60, of Pinellas Park lost control of his car and barreled into the cyclists.
But Hirschburger said bike lanes are critical. "We need a lane that we can call ours," he said. "It gives us an area that we can call ours."
Pinellas County consistently ranks as one of the five most dangerous places in the country to ride a bicycle. In 2000, the last year for which data is available, 389 bike accidents and six fatalities occurred in Pinellas County. Yet St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Treasure Island and Oldsmar are the only Pinellas cities that report having the basic tool for safeguarding cyclists.
St. Petersburg has the most bike lanes _ 15 miles of its 250 miles of major roads _ but at this point there is no network and the lanes are sprinkled in and near downtown.
Brian Smith, director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county agency that holds the purse strings to the federal government's transportation funds, said all municipalities here want lanes.
"We're trying to get all of the cities to pass a resolution saying if they build new roads, they will put bike lanes on them," Smith said. "We have found almost all of them are strong advocates."
Pinellas County commissioners have agreed to build bike lanes on all new or expanded roads, Smith said. He also said at least five cities have applied for money to build recreational bike trails that connect to the Pinellas Trail.
But only one city has applied to the MPO for the nearly $15-million it has in funding that could be used to build bike lanes. Two months before the accident, St. Petersburg applied for $3.7-million to put lanes on streets, including 30th Avenue N.
"I admit there's not much that's been done yet," Smith said. "There's a lot more that can be done and done quicker. The good part is we know what it is."
St. Petersburg is considering building bike lanes on an additional 100 miles of roads during the next five years. "The mayor's vision and the mayor's goal is to get as many bike lanes as possible," said Venkat Vattikuti, the city of St. Petersburg's new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
Last year, the city hired a consultant to identify which streets were good candidates for bike lanes and to plan for building them. The City Council will vote in September whether to adopt the consultant's recommendations, called the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan.
Vattikuti said building bike lanes can be expensive. The estimated cost of the 100 new miles of lanes is $8-million. "If you have enough right of way and you need to build a new bike lane, you'll need approximately $150,000 to build 1 mile," Vattikuti said.
New lanes require new gravel and asphalt and expend money on design and construction fees. The cheaper option is to put stripes on roads that are already wide enough. But that costs $8,000 per mile, Vattikuti said.
Smith said the lanes are expensive, but the money is not the problem. "It's partly money. It's partly somebody has already designed their roads without bike lanes and now we need to go back and modify it," he said.
Smith said building the lanes requires more planning than most cities have done. But he predicted that other municipalities would soon follow St. Petersburg's lead. "It will take 10 or 20 years, but yes we will get there," he said.
Little room on the road for a bicycle
In Pinellas County, only Treasure Island, Clearwater, Oldsmar and St. Petersburg have some traffic lanes dedicated for cyclists' use. St. Petersburg, which is developing a plan to better accommodate its cyclists and pedestrians, has the most bike lanes, but they are scattershot in and near the downtown. The bike lanes in Treasure Island and St. Petersburg appear here in green.
Popular bike routes
The St. Petersburg Bicycle Club organizes the morning and twilight rides that often have clusters of cyclists sharing city streets with cars and trucks. Five of the common routes appear here in green. The rides typically are subdivided by speed. Departures from North Shore Pool are 7 aa.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8:30 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 8:30 a.m. Sunday from the St. Petersburg Main Branch Library, 37th Street and Ninth Avenue N.
Sources: St. Petersburg Bicycle Club, Cities of St. Petersburg and Treasure Island
A group of bicyclists prepare for the 1997 St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg, which has the most bike lanes in the county. However, Pinellas County is one of the five most dangerous places in the United States to ride a bike.
A bicycle lane is marked on Capri Boulevard in Treasure Island, one of the few cities in Pinellas County with bike lanes. Others nearby are on 115th Street and Paradise Boulevard. Pinellas County commissioners have agreed to build bike lanes on all new or expanded roads, and St. Petersburg is considering building bike lanes on an additional 100 miles of roads during the next five years. It had applied for funding for bike lanes on streets before the 30th Avenue N accident.