In 2016, 138 cyclists in Florida were killed in vehicle crashes—the highest per-capita number of fatalities of any state in the nation. The state with the next highest fatality rate was South Carolina, and its rate was almost 25 percent lower.
Sarasota’s Mike Lasche, founder of the nonprofit Florida Walks and Bikes and executive director of the nonprofit Bicycle/Pedestrian Advocates, has spent much of his adult life thinking about how to make our region safer for bicyclists and advocating for smarter streets. We asked him why it’s risky to be a bicyclist here and what we can do to improve safety.
The tenets of New Urbanism hold that buildings should be constructed as close to the street as possible in order to create a walkable city feel, but this is detrimental to bikers, says Lasche. He points out that bikers come in all ages and ability levels and that less skilled bikers should be riding on sidewalks rather than in bike lanes. With skinny sidewalks like those around the Vue, though, that is hazardous.
Dangerous utility poles
And not only are sidewalks skinny, but on the North Trail, among other places, you’ll see light poles in the middle of sidewalks that force bicyclists to veer left or right to avoid them. That can cause serious accidents as riders lose their balance. Lasche says no urban planning standards allow for placement of poles like that, but the state did it anyway. According to Lasche, sidewalks (the term he prefers is “streetsides”) should be clear of obstacles.
Roundabouts are a vast improvement over most intersections with traffic lights, Lasche says. They slow down drivers and allow bikers to act like cars, which cuts down on danger. “I’m all for the roundabouts the city is proposing,” he says.
The region is missing out on a golden opportunity to require new developments east of I-75 to offer connector trails for bicyclists and pedestrians, Lasche says. Such trails would remove bikes from roadways altogether and are very attractive for potential homebuyers.
Those behind the wheel and those on bikes often don’t understand the rules of the road, Lasche points out, and everyone could use a refresher course. “Everybody has ridden a bike as a child and so everybody thinks they’re an expert,” he says. “The fact is it’s a lot more complicated than that.”