Today's News-Press has another article in its ongoing series focusing on bike/ped safety in Southwest Florida. Today's article focuses on the string of recent cycling crashes with serious injuries, including the 4 cyclists that were injured on the Fort Myers Beach bridge on July 12th.
Note that the News-Press has a new Facebook page called "Share the Road Florida" (www.facebook.com/sharetheroadflorida) to cover the good, bad and ugly about riding a bike in Southwest Florida. Be sure to "friend" it and share your thoughts. Thanks to Janine Zeitlin for her excellent work on this News-Press project.
Rich Crouse spotted a white sedan barreling toward him on a recent Saturday morning in Fort Myers Beach.
I’m going to die, he thought.
The driver had already weaved in and out of a line of 10 cyclists, downing other riders coming from Naples this month. Crouse pedaled even closer to the concrete barrier on the shoulder. The 56-year-old couldn’t fathom why the car wasn’t stopping or moving to an open lane.
He bounced from the hood as the 84-year-old driver’s car shoved him along the pavement before braking.
Crouse felt lucky to walk away with severe road rash and soreness, but the most seriously injured of the four riders remained at a Lee Memorial hospital Friday afternoon. His condition had improved from critical to fair.
Gone are the swarms of tourists and snowbirds, but serious crashes involving bicycles show no signs of abating in Lee County. Along with the July 12 Fort Myers Beach crash, an elderly cyclist in Bonita Springs suffered trauma after being hit by a driver Thursday who fled the scene. Earlier this month, a rider suffered serious injuries in Cape Coral after crashing with a pickup, as did a cyclist in Alva who blew a stop sign and was struck, according to initial reports.
There have been 112 bicycle-crash injuries in Lee this year, according to preliminary data provided by the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization. At this pace, the count could surpass last year’s 175 injuries, a 13-year high.
“We’ve got to get the crash numbers down,” said Dan Moser of the BikeWalkLee coalition and a longtime advocate for safer roads. “The lucky thing is that not as many of them are fatalities, but it’s hard to say what kind of life-altering injuries these are.”
Moser plans to focus on preventing people from riding in the road against traffic, which is illegal and more dangerous. He’s also joining law enforcement for targeted outreach to walkers and bikers. Florida Department of Transportation has ranked Lee No. 9 among the top focus areas in the state because of high number of bike and pedestrian crashes and fatalities. This lousy ranking comes in the most lethal state for cyclists.
Some of the cyclists injured on Fort Myers Beach are working with Naples attorney Ted Zelman to try to cover the costs of medical bills and their damaged bikes. Zelman, an avid cyclist, sits on the board of the 800-member Naples Velo cycling club.
The crash could have been classified as reckless driving, Zelman said, a criminal charge which would have required a court appearance. The driver, Lee Luenser, was cited for careless driving and operating a vehicle with an expired tag, tickets that carry a total of $272 in fines in Lee County. The lawyer would like to see enhanced penalties for striking road users, who are not protected by 4,000 pounds of metal.
|Lee Luenser, 84-yr. old driver|
“We need better and stronger laws and better and stronger enforcement,” Zelman said. “This type of incident shows the need for doing that to hold people responsible for the consequences of their actions.”
The News-Press was unable to get a response from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that investigated the crash, as it has a policy against answering questions from this media organization. Last week, the crash and enforcement came up at a county bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee meeting. Steve Jansen, a traffic engineer with the county’s transportation department, defended law enforcement.
“They don’t give out tickets because the judges do not support them,” Jansen said. “The judge will say, ‘Did you see it happen?’”
The crash report says Luenser was treated for a neurological issue and may have had a medical event while driving. Luenser could not be reached Friday, but his license remained valid. A woman who identified herself as his daughter said her father was unavailable and was receiving rehabilitation but declined to speak further.
In the accident report, the deputy indicated Luenser should be re-tested for his license. Moser has also submitted a package to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which may spur a medical review of the driver. The process could take more than two months for action. Crouse plans to discuss safety concerns at an upcoming Naples Velo meeting, but the crashes have renewed calls for more and wider bike lanes and shifts in attitude about sharing roads. But the battle can feel uphill.
On the return ride after the July 12 Fort Myers Beach crash, Dirk van Rossum, who was not injured, was heckled by a motorist who yelled, ‘Get the ... off the road,’ he recalled. “It will take a lot of extraordinary effort to raise awareness for the safety and legal rights of cyclists and other disadvantaged road users.”
Staff writer Melissa Montoya contributed to this report.
The News-Press has a new Facebook page www.facebook.com/sharetheroadflorida to cover the good, bad and ugly about riding a bike in Southwest Florida. Florida is consistently ranked the most lethal state for cyclists and statistics put Collier and Lee among the worst in the state. At the same time, there are so many great things about cycling in the Sunshine State. Please like and share ways to make our area more bike-friendly.