Sunday, March 8, 2015

Paths of peril--SWFL's heartbreaking bike deaths

News-Press Sunday 3/8/15 Bike Safety Feature:
Each Southwest Florida bike death is a different, heartbreaking story

By Janine Zeitlin, Melanie Payne and Laura Ruane,, 
Cyclist Scott Johnsen was killed 9/28/14

Scott Johnsen rode in a pack of hundreds of bicyclists, solemnly pedaling through downtown Fort Myers. May's warm breezes kept the evening in the 80s. The setting sun cast the royal palms gold.

Johnsen, 59, kept a steady pace with the group that joined for the Ride of Silence, an international event to remember bicyclists who have been killed or injured. The pack was quiet but for the clicking gears. He thought about a friend who had been killed in Ohio. He thought about the man's young family. He wore a black arm band in his honor.

Such a senseless loss.

Along the route, he spotted the mother and father of a cyclist killed when a driver forced her over Sanibel Causeway. They held a poster-sized photo of their smiling blond daughter. He couldn't imagine such grief. He had a daughter, two grandkids.

"It's amazing how alone in your thoughts you can be among so many riders," Johnsen wrote on dailymile, a site where he described this ride and his daily cycling routines. "I live in Lee County in SW Florida. We have already had 5 fatalities in 2014. This madness has to stop!"

Four months later, Jason Stewart, speeding down Cape Coral's Diplomat Parkway in his blue Corvette, struck and killed Johnsen. A witness told police the car "screamed" past her at more than 100 mph. Stewart, 44, was arrested in January for vehicular homicide and reckless driving.

Johnsen's was another death in the most lethal state in the nation for bicyclists. Southwest Florida ranks among the worst in the nation for deaths and crashes. Nine people died in Lee County in the past year or so, three in Collier. The youngest was 15, the oldest was 80.

Four became criminal cases. Three more resulted in traffic tickets. The highest fine for a life was $1,600.

Darkness contributed. Some bicyclists didn't have lights. Five of the 12 riders made fatal mistakes.
Flawed roadways lead to deadly rides, said Dan Moser, a longtime bike safety advocate with BikeWalkLee. Southwest Florida roads are still being designed with scant attention to bikers and walkers, but for high speed and efficiency for cars, he said.

"That's like oil and water when we have the same spaces for automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians."
These deaths point to symptoms of continued carnage, yet each one tells its own story.

.....the article ends with a call to action...

Take Action

In Florida, a driver could pay the same fine for a mistake that causes a dent in a fender as causing lifelong pain to a biker or walker. Last year, a driver was given a $170 fine in a Naples crash that left a cyclist with more than 20 broken bones.

Puny tickets for life-altering injuries to bicyclists was one inspiration behind a bill that has been filed by two Southwest Florida lawmakers, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen. The safety bill would push fines up to $2,000 in cases where vulnerable road users, such as bicyclists and walkers, are injured. It would also: mandate driver education and testing on the legal rights and safety of vulnerable users, make harassing a cyclist a misdemeanor and make it illegal for a motorist to cut off a vulnerable users, among other things. There's a companion bill in the Senate.

"We've got to find a good way to share the road lawfully and collaboratively, as opposed to antagonistically," Passidomo said.

Related:The birth of a bill to protect cyclists, walkers
If you want to support the bills, contact your local lawmakers.

Get involved, learn more:

BikeWalkLee: or 472-1179
Naples Pathways Coalition: or 777-7718.
• The Lee County Injury Prevention Coalition is rolling out a "Drive Wise Lee" campaign to bring down fatal car crashes:
• Share and learn about ideas to make the roads safer on The News-Press Facebook page, Share the Road Florida

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