Thursday, July 28, 2016

A lethal recipe: poor roadway design and bad driving behavior

This week's Dan Moser column in Florida Weekly.  Click here for one-pager with all who/what/when/how to report (keep this handy).

It was like watching a movie with the action in slow motion. What looked like a crash that was going to be deadly for two stopped motorists and two bicyclists crossing the highway was happening before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it. Fortunately it turned out to be a fenderbender, albeit harrowing for all involved.

It happened on a recent weekday afternoon as I was bicycling east on North Colonial Linear Park, approaching Trailhead Park and the trail’s intersection with Veronica Shoemaker Boulevard.

I saw a southbound black pickup stopped in the outside lane at the crosswalk for two bicyclists who were heading west toward me and awaiting a safe crossing opportunity in the median.

A number of southbound vehicles continued to (illegally) pass the pickup by going around in the inside lane until a white minivan finally stopped, allowing the cyclists to proceed. Just as the two cyclists realized it was safe and entered the crosswalk I noticed a fully loaded flatbed semi-truck coming from the north at full speed, the driver obviously unaware of the two stopped vehicles and bicyclists now well into the crosswalk.

Lack of adequate crosswalk enhancements, landscaping that creates visual barriers, high-speed roadway design and an unwarranted curve in the highway make the North Colonial Linear Park crossing difficult and dangerous.DAN MOSER / FLORIDA WEEKLY
Lack of adequate crosswalk enhancements, landscaping that creates visual barriers, high-speed roadway design and an unwarranted curve in the highway make the North Colonial Linear Park crossing difficult and dangerous.

Just as the semi was about to rear-end the van or pickup, it appeared the driver decided to split the difference and positioned his truck between the two lanes as he simultaneously hit the brakes.

Fortunately, immediately before impact, the pickup driver, seeing that the two cyclists had barely cleared the crosswalk, accelerated. At that moment the semi hit the right-rear side of the van and the left rear of the pickup. All three vehicles came to a stop near the park’s driveway entrance just downstream.

I was now at the scene and met the two bicyclists as they peeked behind them and heard the commotion. The looks on their faces made clear they realized just how close they’d come to death or at least serious injury.

When all parties were gathered at the stopped vehicles I let everyone know I’d observed the entire thing develop, well before the semi entered the picture. Once police arrived I reiterated my statement to them as well and that the semi driver was clearly at fault — most likely distracted as he approached the crosswalk, one he’s driven across many times on a regular basis, a fact I later learned.

Having no sympathy for an inattentive driver — especially a professional driver familiar with the area — there’s something other than driver misbehavior at play at this popular trail crossing.

North Colonial Linear Park was constructed with federal funds over 20 years ago. Because of that, the city should have given the linear park preference when it built Veronica Shoemaker about 10 years later. That would have been the case if the highway’s original route were used, because it would have had to fly over a water management structure adjacent to the trail, allowing users to proceed under the highway.

Instead, the city made a deal with property owners that provided them better access to the highway in exchange for property that allowed for the use of a box culvert by jogging the highway around the weir. The curve is at the worse place it could be: right where the linear park crosses at-grade.

Bike/ped advocates fought to force the roadway overpass based on the federal requirement that a park built by certain funds could not be negatively impacted by a roadway project but the city refused to acknowledge the requirement and essentially ignored it. Later efforts to have the crosswalk enhanced with flashing beacons and additional roadway warning signs were also deemed unnecessary by top city staff. To add to the problem, landscaping was placed in the median that obstructs the view for both motorists and crosswalk users. Finally, because of the highway being over-designed for the posted 40 mph speed limit, drivers routinely travel 10-15 mph over that limit.

If want to see improvements made, contact the city manager at 321-7022 or ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417.

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