Bicyclists beware in Pinellas County. It’s the worst county in a state that fares poorly in terms of bicycle safety. Two tragic bicycle accident deaths Tuesday night and Wednesday morning did little to alleviate the problem. Sadly, both men who were killed did everything they were supposed to be doing to avoid such an end. They were wearing reflective vests and one of them was even traveling in the bike lane on Ulmerton Road using lights to make himself more visible.
Joseph Samson was killed after he was struck by a hit-and-run-driver, a pick-up truck that left him for dead. Robert Allen Shepherd, 62, was tossed into the roadway, run over by another car, and killed.
It’s a sad fact that Pinellas County roadways are not built for bicycle traffic.
“We’ve been built around the automobile, and that’s made it hard to make too many bike-friendly places,” said Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, the county’s transportation and land use planning agency that found Pinellas to be the worst of Florida’s major counties based on the average rate from 2011 to 2015.
Even though dense development should make it more accessible, Blanton attributed the county’s challenges to flocks of tourists unfamiliar with the area and a desire to move traffic toward the beaches, making east-west corridors such as Ulmerton Road unfriendly to slower-moving bikers.
Pinellas has invested a lot in its trail system, Blanton said, but the street network has been left behind. Forward Pinellas is working with the county and the Florida Department of Transportation to add features such as wider bike lanes with buffers from the road and narrower car lanes to slow down vehicle traffic. The organization provides funding for local governments through the Complete Streets Program for planning and construction projects that make roads friendly to all who use them.
Texting, talking on the cell phone, or simply driving unaware of the possibility that bicyclists may be sharing the road all contribute to this tragic loss of life. We can’t re-build the road system but we can slow down and pay attention so we don’t take another human life. You have to ask yourself when you get behind the wheel of your vehicle, is 5 or 10 minutes you may save by driving fast worth taking a human life?