1. Health

Clarity on rules of the road would go a long way toward cyclist safety

Published Nov. 25, 2015

As Lorrie Lykins recently reported in the Dr. Delay column in the Times, sharrows, those markings of a bicycle with arrows painted on road surfaces, will soon be more common on area roads. Within the next year, they'll be on more than 50 blocks of St. Petersburg streets, including Central Avenue from the bay to 31st Street, according to Evan Mory, the city's transportation and parking director.

Add sharrows to the sizable list of bicycle laws, regulations and signs that are confusing to riders, motorists and even police officers.

As the Florida Bicycle Association's website states, "At any given time, there is no single complete, consistent, definitive interpretation recognized throughout the state. There are provisions of the traffic laws that are enforced differently in different parts of the state, and some are scarcely enforced at all. The same terms may have the same or different meanings in the statutes and various agencies' guiding documents."

Clarity would be welcome. U.S. bicycle mortality rates are double those in other developed countries, with injury rates that are eight to 30 times higher, according to a 2007 study published in Transport Reviews. U.S. traffic engineers and bicycling advocates want to reduce that number, but with no common understanding of the rules of the road, the task is Herculean.

Take, for example, signage. The "Share the Road" signs are considered "warning signs." Their purpose is to inform motorists that bikes are likely to be on the road. But I think to many motorists the signs mean "share the lane." As previously reported, there are few travel lanes that are 14 feet wide, the minimum width, according to Florida Department of Transportation guidelines, necessary for bikes and car to coexist in the lane.

Unless there is a marked bike lane, riders should control the lane to dissuade motorists from trying to squeeze by, that is, share the lane. That's where the new sharrows come in. "When you see a sharrow, it means the road is expected to be used by cyclists with some regularity, and that the cyclist may need to be anywhere in the travel lane," Florida DOT bicycle and pedestrian coordinator DeWayne Carver said in an email. Earlier standards allowed sharrows to be placed anywhere in the lane. In early 2014, sharrows were placed on the far right of Gulf Boulevard in Pinellas County, giving the impression that cyclists must stay to the far right. Updated guidance now recommends painting sharrows in the middle of the lane. And, Carver said, they may be accompanied by a "regulatory sign" that has a bicycle symbol, below which are the words "May Use the Full Lane."

But Florida law 316.2065 allows cyclists to use the full lane whenever the lane is "too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane." So at any time, a motorist may see riders toward the middle of the lane, controlling it in a way that is meant to encourage motorists to wait until the adjacent lane is clear before passing.

That's a tough sell to some drivers. However, a study by George Hess, a professor at North Carolina State University, has found that the "May Use the Full Lane" sign helps. Its presence on roadways increases the understanding among motorists that they should wait until it's clear to pass and that bicyclists are permitted in the lane. It also increases the perception of rider safety among motorists and riders. Despite the presence of a "Full Lane" sign, though, up to 8 percent of the population didn't think cyclists should have that privilege.

A number of other cycling laws need clarification or, sometimes, complete overhauls. My experience is that drivers think if there is a bike lane, the 3-foot rule doesn't apply. But there is no exception to the law. Riders will often use the left half of a bike lane to avoid gravel near the curb or parked cars whose doors can suddenly swing open. Motorists should move to the left to give the cyclists adequate clearance — at least 3 feet.

The 3-foot rule itself is problematic. A bill filed for the next state legislative session would clarify that the measurement is from the closest portion of the car to the rider, including side-view mirrors, landscape trailers, etc.

In fact, the 3-foot rule is largely unenforceable. Courts can dismiss citations because the officer issuing a ticket cannot verify that the distance he observed was less than 3 feet. Another bill may be in the works that does away with the 3-foot rule entirely and replaces it with the same "move over" requirement that motorists passing emergency vehicles on the roadside must follow: Cars must reduce their speed to 20 mph less than the posted speed limit and, if possible, move into the adjacent lane.

The filed bill, HB 253, also explicitly allows cars to cross over any no-passing line when passing a bicyclist. It also allows groups of four or more cyclists to act as one through stop signs. Once the group stops, all cyclists may proceed through the stop sign. This is a courtesy that many motorists already give riders.

Finally, current law allows cyclists to ride two abreast but they "may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and shall ride within a single lane." This has been interpreted by some to mean that any bike rider traveling at less than the average speed, which includes most riders on most roads, cannot ride two abreast. The Florida Bicycle Association website summary of bicycle laws argues that this is an inaccurate interpretation of the law. Again, clarification is needed.

I remain convinced that a greater understanding of the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists and motorists will help improve safety. Clarifying laws and education are key, as is compliance with the law by both bike riders and motorists.

Bob Griendling is president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Contact him at


  1. Erik Maltais took an unconventional path to becoming CEO of Immertec, a virtual reality company aimed at training physicians remotely. He dropped out of school as a teenager, served in Iraq in the Marine Corps and eventually found his way to Tampa. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Software from Immertec can bring physicians into an operating room thousands of miles away.
  2. Homeowner Cheryl Murdoch, 59, explains the workings of the Philips Smart Mirror in her bathroom. Murdoch and her husband live in the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon, where some residents are piloting new health technologies inside their homes. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    In Pasco’s Crystal Lagoon community, AdventHealth and Metro Development Group are testing in-home technology aimed at keeping people away from the hospital.
  3. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  4. Michael Jenkins spent seven days at North Tampa Behavioral Health last July. Since then, he says his three children have been afraid he’ll leave and not come home. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
    The patients have no choice, and the hospital is making millions.
  5. Samantha Perez takes a call for someone in need of counseling at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay earlier this year. The center handles calls dealing with suicide, sexual assault, homelessness and other traumatic situations. They also do outreach and counseling, and operate Transcare, an ambulance service. JONES, OCTAVIO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Florida’s mental health care system saves lives.
  6. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
  7. FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2014, file photo, a patron exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at a store in New York. Under the Trump administration, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb kicked off his tenure in 2017 with the goal of making cigarettes less addictive by drastically cutting nicotine levels. He also rebooted the agency’s effort to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes. But those efforts have been largely eclipsed by the need to respond to an unexpected explosion in e-cigarette use by teens. AP
    Hundreds of people nationwide have come down with lung illness related to vaping.
  8. This May 2018, photo provided by Joseph Jenkins shows his son, Jay, in the emergency room of the Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, S.C. Jay Jenkins suffered acute respiratory failure and drifted into a coma, according to his medical records, after he says he vaped a product labeled as a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD. Lab testing commissioned as part of an Associated Press investigation into CBD vapes showed the cartridge that Jenkins says he puffed contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe. JOSEPH JENKINS  |  AP
    The vapor that Jenkins inhaled didn’t relax him. After two puffs, he ended up in a coma.
  9. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is the centerpiece of Project Arthur, an 800-acre corporate park that could include up 24 million square feet of office and industrial space on nearly 7,000 acres of what is now ranch land, but targeted for development in central Pasco. Times
    The H. Lee Moffitt facility is the centerpiece of an economic development effort in a proposed 800-acre corporate park.
  10. Taylor Bland-Ball, 22, posted this photo and open letter to Judge Thomas Palermo to her Instagram account on September 10, the day after she lost custody of her 4-year-old son Noah McAdams. The boy's parents wanted to treat his leukemia with natural health care remedies instead of chemotherapy. [Instagram] ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Instagram
    The couple refused chemotherapy for their son, instead seeking alternative treatments including dietary plans, alkaline water and THC and CBD oil treatments