Today's editorial in the Naples Daily News (NDN) shines the spotlight again on the need for stronger laws to protect cyclists and pedestrians with a focus on the failure of the Florida Legislature, two years in a row, to pass Rep. Passidomo's vulnerable users bill. The next legislative session a year away, meanwhile the roads aren't getting safer, NDN suggests that local communities should consider passing their own ordinances to make the roads safer for vulnerable road users. It's time for action.
|(News-Press earlier photo)|
Each of the past two years, Collier County commissioners have placed high on their legislative priority list a plea for laws to better protect cyclists, pedestrians and runners on the roads.
For the past two legislative sessions, state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has pushed to tweak laws to increase safety for so-called "vulnerable users," such as pedestrians and cyclists.
Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the wheels came off her legislation in the waning days of the session.
We say unfortunate because what's emerged to us as an issue needing heightened attention by state leaders in 2016 is the spike in Florida traffic accidents and highway fatalities. Since the state set a goal in 2012 to reduce Florida highway fatalities by 5 percent annually through 2017, the numbers are trending in the opposite direction. There were about 2,940 traffic deaths in Florida in 2015 — 40 percent higher than the state's goal of 2,084.
More cars on the road in an improved economy. More people going to and from work. More tourists. More people walking, running and cycling in a health-aware society. These are trends on a collision course and that's exactly what's happening.
By the numbers
Not surprisingly, Florida saw more total crashes in 2015 (about 373,800) compared with 2014 (about 344,300), state data show.
That included an increase in both pedestrians hit and bicycle crashes, the data show. There were about 9,060 pedestrians hit in 2015 compared with 8,850 the prior year. Approximately 7,110 bicycle crashes occurred in 2015, a slight increase of about 25 over the previous year, the data show.
In Collier in 2015, the number of pedestrians hit increased over 2014 while fewer bicyclists were hit year-over-year, records show. In Lee, both numbers were up.
In 2014 and 2015, the number of pedestrian and cycling fatalities stayed about the same statewide — about 135 cyclists and about 600 pedestrians were killed on the roads, records show. The combined number of Collier and Lee deaths of these "vulnerable users" was down slightly in 2015 from the prior year.
Remember, though, the state's goal has been to reduce numbers since 2012, when about 115 cyclists died and about 475 pedestrians did.
So, overall, the numbers are going significantly in the wrong direction statewide.
Passidomo's common-sense approach was to tweak laws — not to make sweeping new statutes — to reduce collisions. Let's set aside the blame game between drivers and cyclists for now — someone on a bicycle, walking or running doesn't stand a chance against a vehicle.
To protect cyclists, she sought to clarify that a driver legally can swing across a double-yellow line to stay 3 feet from a "vulnerable user." A plus: spelling out from where the 3-foot distance is measured under current law that says a vehicle must stay that far from a "vulnerable user." Another good idea: a turning vehicle must first allow the cyclist to safely clear.
In 2015, her sharing-the-road initiative died when there were minor differences in bills in each chamber and the House adjourned early. This year, there again were slight differences in versions in each chamber.
"When the bill was being debated on the Senate floor, an issue arose as to why motorcyclists were considered 'vulnerable road users' and there was much contentious discussion about that issue," Passidomo wrote in an email explaining reasons why the measure died this year.
Passidomo is seeking a Senate seat this year. If she returns to Tallahassee, "I will work with everyone who has commented on the bill or who has an interest in the bill to make it better," she said. "My goal is to pass a law that provides a common-sense approach to sharing of a roadway by motor vehicles and vulnerable road users that is fair to all."
In the meantime, the next legislative session is a year away. Data show our roads aren't getting safer.
"I believe there is no state pre-emption at this time so local communities can probably pass their own ordinances on their own roadways," Passidomo said.
It's a priority to Collier commissioners. So they should take a look at any local possibilities.