Thursday, March 3, 2011

NBC-2 News: Tracking Tax Dollars: Making roads safe for bikes

While this story was posted on NBC-2 News on Jan 31, 2011, we just now discovered it.

LEE COUNTY: Florida ranks number one in the country for fatal bicycle crashes. The problem is so bad, communities are spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on plans to make the roads safe, but the NBC2 Investigators found little to nothing has been done. NBC2 Investigator Andy Pierrotti literally hit the road to get answers.

We share the same road, but when you're a cyclist pounding the pavement in Southwest Florida, don't expect to be respected by all drivers.

"I don't remember the actual impact itself," says Craig Hersch, who knows the risk first hand.

The Ft. Myers attorney and triathlon competitor nearly died after a driver hit him on Summerlin Road a few years ago.

"The problem is, is that a lot of our motorists unfortunately don't consider bicyclists to able to share the road, and some of them are outright hostile," Hersch said.

Florida has consistently ranked one of the top three deadliest states to ride a bicycle.

Southwest Florida saw 644 accidents from 2008 to June 2010. That's one accident every 34 hours. Seventeen bicyclists died.

To make it safer, the city of ft Myers purchased a design plan in 2006 to restructure the city's roads by adding more bike lanes and sidewalks. That plan cost taxpayers $278,742.

NBC2 discovered that as of 2011, only 13-percent of the plan has been implemented.

So, what's taking so long?

"It's funding. Funding is the issue," says Saaed Kazemi, the city's chief engineer.

He says the city planned to immediately start construction, but the recession hit, and it lost money.

Florida Bike Association's Dan Moser says the city's isn't the only one dragging its feet. He blames local counties and the state too.

"We have to get the Florida Department of Transportation to acknowledge that there's a problem, and they don't just dismiss it [by saying] oh, there's more people biking because the weather is nice," Moser said.

According to a January report by The News Service of Florida, Lauren Hallam, executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association, told a state senate transportation committee it should take a serious look at penalties for drivers who strike bicycle riders.

"Usually you like to be number one, but Florida unfortunately generally is number one in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities," she said. "When people get killed, we get very, very angry and we want to do something about it."

Hallam seemed to draw some sympathy from the committee chairman, Senator. Jack Latvala, though he later did not include any of her proposals in the list of bills likely to be taken up by his committee.

Last year, Lee County's Metropolitan Planning Organization spent $188,000 on a design plan to make streets safer for bikers. They hope to get grants to fund the projects.

Is your bike route safe? We've put together interactive maps of nearly all bicycle accidents in Southwest Florida over the past three years, broken down by county.

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