A few years ago, BikeDFW stirred up a wave of fear about the number of cyclists who were hit by cars in the greater DFW area in six week period, in an area about the size of an eastern seaboard state. Two cyclists died when a DUI driver mowed them down on the shoulder of a Farm-to-Market road in Grand Prairie, and four more were hit in other areas (just one in Dallas, IIRC). For convenience, BikeDFW shortened it to "Six Cyclists Hit by Cars in Dallas in Six Weeks" as they began a petition and fund-raising appeal, and then groups like Bike Friendly Oak Cliff started saying "Six Cyclist Fatalities in Six Weeks in Dallas!" That was then picked up by the League of American Bicyclists, and their mouthpiece, Bicycling Magazine. Nothing spreads like fear-mongering.
Now we actually have a sad story in Tampa Bay, Florida where six cyclists have died as a result of motor vehicle collisions. Horrible tragedies, every one. Now there are the usual (and not unjustified) cries of outrage and demands for more special facilities. But let's look more closely at what's happening.
Here are some highlights of the story, with footnoted comments.
Vega did nothing wrong, police said. She was waiting on the sidewalk at Spruce Street and Himes Avenue for the crosswalk light when an SUV driven by Josefina Rodriguez ran a red light. (1) A car hit the SUV, sent it spinning toward the sidewalk. Vega was thrown into a concrete block house. Police found her bike wedged beneath the SUV.
Rodriguez, 41, previously had a clean Florida driving record but was cited on Friday for running the red light. She won't face criminal charges because she wasn't showing signs of reckless disregard, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. Rodriguez didn't appear impaired, and witnesses said she wasn't driving extremely fast or weaving in traffic. "By law, running a red light does not rise to the level of reckless disregard," McElroy said. That upsets Vega's sister, JoAnn Vega, who works for the St. Petersburg Times. "The saddest thing was my sister was on the sidewalk," she said.
Diane Vega leaves three adult children and a 3-month-old granddaughter. Her family remembers her as a joyous woman who loved foreign movies and the beach.
"Diane was always on the move, trying to do new things and experience life as much as she could," her daughters wrote. "Her wonderful smile could light up a room."
Local law enforcement say it hasn't been a particularly deadly year, but the past two months are unusual. The causes and scenarios vary.
On Sept. 25, Kayoko Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of South Florida, was killed in a hit-and-run on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Deputies questioned a man and impounded his red Ford Explorer, but no arrests have been made. Like Vega, Ishizuka was doing everything right when she was struck. She wore a helmet, had lights on her bike and was in the bike lane, deputies said. (2)
St. Petersburg police are still going through tips and evidence in the Sept. 12 hit-and-run crash that killed Neil Alan Smith, a Crab Shack Restaurant dishwasher. (3)
The day before, New Port Richey resident Stephen Allen Ivey, 52, had ridden onto a two-lane road without stopping, Capt. Jeffrey Harrington said. Ivey struck a car that had the right-of-way. He wasn't wearing a helmet, police said, and was ejected from his bike. (4)
On Sept. 9, Chiles Elementary School art teacher Joe Dyals, 46, died after crossing the path of a minivan. (5)
And on July 29, LeRoy "Roy" Collins Jr., 75, a retired two-star admiral and executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, was struck by a sport utility vehicle. The driver, Margaux Manuel, tried to help him at the scene, but Collins died at the hospital. Manuel, an obstetrics and gynecology resident at the University of South Florida, wasn't cited or charged. (6)
Before the riding vigil Friday night, bicycle advocate Alan Snel told the crowd to take their messages to elected officials. State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said she will do what she can. "Bicyclists should not be afraid for their lives to ride bikes in this city," she told the crowd. Then riders boarded their bikes — one with a safety vest that read "I want a safe commute" — and rode off. Their bike lights flashed like candles in the dusk.
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Danny Valentine and Lee Logan contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1: The cyclist was stationary on the sidewalk. This tragedy has nothing to do with bicycle safety, as her bicycle had no impact on the collision that took her life. It is of more than passing interest to me that it's apparently not reckless driving in Florida to run a red light in an SUV, but in Ellis County, Texas, it is reckless driving to ride a bicycle on a state highway. There is no effective preventative action.
2: The cyclist was in a bike lane and wearing a helmet. The fear-mongers always present those two items as cure-alls for bicyclist safety, when the evidence clearly shows that neither of them affords protection from cars, and one of them might actually increase the danger (the University of Texas pro-bike lane study of a few years ago clearly showed that cars pass cyclists faster and more closely if the cyclist is in a bike lane than if they are either in a wide lane or taking the lane. Studies in the UK and North Carolina confirm these findings.
3: Not enough info to draw conclusions. I would wager that the collision took place in the early morning hours (after the cyclists work shift), and there is a high probability that the motorist was intoxicated, and that the cyclist may have had no illumination or reflective apparel. That's what the statistics say. Cyclist education and training might have prevented this collision, by teaching the cylist how to operate their vehicle at night in such a way as to prevent close passes and visibility problems. (Note: See Comments. Mr. Smith was in a bike lane, had reflectors, and was wearing light-colored clothing.)
4: The cyclist essentially "ran a stop sign", and was hit by a car that had the right of way. Even if there was no stop sign present, the cyclist had the responsibility to yield right of way to the approaching automobile. Education and training would have prevented the fatality. by showing the cyclist how to operate their vehicle in a safe and confident manner.
5: See #4 above. Education and training as preventative.
6: No info. Possibly a brush-by, where the motor vehicle operator attempts to pass a cyclist who is riding "as far close to the curb as they can". The motorist misjudges clearances, and the cyclist goes down. If that's what happened here, education and training would have prevented the fatality. by showing the cyclist how to operate their vehicle in a safe and confident manner. (Note: See Comments. Adm. Collins was crossing with the light in a crosswalk when he was struck by a right-turning vehicle. Adm. Collins had the right-of-way.)
I am prone to believe that 5 of these 6 fatalities could have been prevented with better education and training, and that the safety measures governments often mandate (mandatory helmets and bike lanes) offer no protection at all.
As cyclists, we don't have to be victims.