On a warm winter afternoon, I dodge the flattened carcass of a jaywalking raccoon while biking down Cocoanut Avenue. To my right, I pass a small girl coping with the puddle of orange juice she created on the sidewalk. I am on my weekly way to the beach along this cyclist-friendly street where there is always something to see. It is not lost on me, the privilege of biking to the sea. It’s something out of an advertisement for a life many hope to live. For me it’s just another Thursday.
I am the only cyclist on the road, making the ride even more dream-like. Why, I wonder, do more people not take advantage of the ideal biking topography of Sarasota? There are no hills to climb, no numbing winter to sting your skin. At the intersection of Cocoanut and Fruitville Road, a burgundy Cadillac answers my question by taking an unsignaled right turn and nearly crushing me. I slam on my brakes just in time. People don’t bike in Sarasota because it is dangerous.
Since 1970, Florida has consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous places to bike. Florida led the country with 6.8 bicycle fatalities per million residents. Within Florida, Sarasota and Manatee counties regularly rank in the top 5 of cyclist deaths. That makes our town one of the deadliest places to bike in the country.
I continue pedaling through downtown, riding up Main Street and doing some laps around the new roundabouts, while I debate whether I am hungry enough to pay $10 for a few leafy greens at Whole Foods. My wallet is emptier than my stomach, so I head straight for North Lido Beach.
I have adapted to Sarasota’s perilous roads. I’ve learned that to be safe, I must assume that no one sees me at all. But I must also be an offensive biker. I take more space for myself. Very rarely will people hit bicyclists from behind. When the speed limit is 25 miles an hour, I bike in the center of my lane, which is perfectly legal. We bicyclists belong on the road, despite how some drivers might feel. I arrive safely at the beach and lock up my bike.
As a millennial, I’m convinced that if Sarasota is to attract more young, ambitious adults it must embrace a culture apart from motor vehicles. The best cities are the ones where people get around on two feet, two wheels or public transportation. Sarasota’s commutes are dominated by cars. About 0.5 percent of people travel by mass transit, 0.7 percent by foot and 0.8 percent by bike. While Sarasota has been good about creating bike lanes whenever it repaves roads, there are only 488 miles of “bike-friendly” roads out of a total of 2,300 miles of roads in Sarasota County. Of these bike-friendly miles, 313 miles have bike lanes. The rest are paved shoulders and shared lanes, which are less preferable than the 4 to 5 feet that bike lanes offer cyclists. And most roads make no provisions for bikers at all.
The sun has set and beach-goers are hopping into their cars to make their slow crawl over the John Ringling Causeway. Cars are stacked up from St. Armands Circle to U.S. 41. I leave behind each car with a growing sense of joy—I move and they do not. And while they may reach their destinations before I reach mine (the car, after all, is faster than the bike), I take in sights and smells and sounds they’ll never experience trapped inside their cars. I bike because pedaling around Sarasota, life passes by at the perfect speed.