After bicyclist Sherry Nowotarski crashed on Pinellas County’s Park Boulevard Bridge earlier this year, her friends and other local cyclists said officials needed to do something to make the bridge safer for riders on two wheels.
That’s now happening.
Crews have painted four structural joints on the bridge a bright orange to make them more visible, and county engineers are considering ways to prevent cyclists from riding into them, a county spokesperson said.
The action comes after the Tampa Bay Times reported that two friends who were with Nowotarski on a pre-dawn ride in October said she lost control of her bicycle after riding into one of the two joints on the westbound shoulder of the drawbridge connecting the mainland to Indian Shores. Nowotarski, 60, fell into the right lane of travel and was struck by a passing car. She died in the hospital two days later.
There are two joints each on the eastbound and westbound shoulders, just before and after the metal grating, where the fixed portion of the drawbridge and the two movable spans come together. Each joint is about 1½ inches wide and an inch deep, and roughly the length of a small car.
Cyclists told the Times that other bicyclists also have fallen or nearly fallen after riding into one of the joints. Some wondered whether the county could fashion some sort of cover for the joints to prevent cyclists from riding into them.
At the time, a county spokesperson said the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office had not finished its investigation of the crash and county officials could not speculate on a cause.
The crash investigation was still open this week, a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said.
Meantime, the county completed the painting job Wednesday, county spokesperson Tony Fabrizio said in an email. The plan is to add reflective beads to make them brighter at night, Fabrizio said.
County engineers have concluded it’s not possible to cover the joints because they’re part of the bridge’s infrastructure, Fabrizio said.
“However, our transportation team is looking at options including raised pavement markers and/or flex posts to divert cyclists from the joints,” he said.
Fabrizio noted that there are signs on the eastbound and westbound approaches to the bridge directing cyclists to “walk bicycles across draw span.” He said the breakdown lanes, or shoulders, and the metal grating on the drawbridge span are not intended for cyclists.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“For the highest degree of safety, cyclists should abide by the county signage and walk their bikes over the drawbridge,” he said.
Cyclists are not legally required to do so, however, and cyclists told the Times that walking across the span is not practical for many riders.
They noted the pedestrian sidewalk is relatively narrow and can barely accommodate two-way pedestrian traffic when at least one party is walking a bike. Another factor: Many cyclists also wear shoes with cleats that clip into pedals and make walking difficult. Riding a bike across the bridge’s metal grating requires caution, but is manageable, cyclists said.
Painting the joints to make them more visible is “a step in the right direction,” said Patrick Hodgson, a friend of Nowotarski’s who was riding just behind her that morning and saw her roll into the joint, fall and get struck by the car.
“But I still feel that it could happen again, even though it’s painted,” Hodgson said. “We really need to have a more permanent solution.”
Hodgson is a founder of the Tampa Bay Cycling Meetup and Facebook group. On Tuesday, for the first time since Nowotarski’s crash, he invited members on the same early-morning group ride Nowotarski was taking part in when she crashed. But this time, Hodgson altered the route to avoid the Park Boulevard Bridge. He said he’d feel safer, too, if the county does more than just apply paint.
“Then I’d feel comfortable going over that bridge,” he said, “but for now, we’re just not ready.”