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  1. Transportation

Pasco seeks to make rural roads safer for bicyclists

Large groups of bicyclists routinely ride the hilly roads in northeast Pasco. The county Metropolitan Planning Organization is considering ways to make the area safer for cyclsits and motorists. Here, a group of riders returns to Pasco County on Myers Road in southern Hernando. Times Staff
Published Mar. 9, 2018

DADE CITY — Upgrading the narrow roads around San Antonio that attract scores of weekend bicyclists could cost as much as $37 million.

Or adding warning signs and flashers and whacking road-side vegetation to improve sight lines could total less than $100,000.

Last week, the Metropolitan Planning Organization — county commissioners and elected city officials sitting as the transportation board — agreed the less costly alternatives are the place to begin.

"It's something to at least start to make it more evident that 'Hey, they're on site here,''' said Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez.

The rural roads, like Bellamy Brothers Boulevard and Prospect, Curley, St. Joe, Lake Iola and Blanton roads, are popular among bicyclists for the changing terrains and scenic vistas.

"It's a tremendous amount of fun,'' said Lance Smith, cycling enthusiast and Zephyrhills City Council member. "The hills are what everybody's there for.''

But the narrow, hilly roads, blind spots, speeding motorists and bicyclists who sometimes ride more than two abreast make for a dangerous combination.

In 2016, Joseph Neal Hancock, 57, a well-known hobby cyclist and citrus grove owner, died after he was struck from behind while riding his bicycle on Lake Iola Road. The driver, also eastbound, crested a hill and didn't see Hancock, troopers said at the time.

The death helped galvanize the need for safety improvements in the area, and last week the MPO learned the results of a safety study conducted by AECOM of Tampa.

Among the findings:

• Three pedestrians were killed and 20 more were injured within the study area in a four-year period ending in 2016.

• Nine bicyclists were injured and one (Hancock) died.

• Resurfacing portions of 14 roads could cost more than $8 million;

• Widening and adding shoulders to 21 roads carried a price tag of $37.4 million.

• Adding five safety flashers, six signs at blind spots and clearing vegetation from four locations had an expense of $99,000.

The study also recommended the county seek a state Department of Transportation grant to finance so-called high visibility enforcement by law enforcement officers.

"It's all publicized. There's no gotcha,'' said Paul Kurtz of AECOM.

Commissioner Ron Oakley wondered if the county should encourage use of its bike trails to curb the number of road cyclists. But the hilly terrain attracts high-performance athletes in training, said Hernandez.

"They're going to ride anyway,'' said Hernandez. "At the very least, we can try to make it as safe as we can.''

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: Bicyclist killed.

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