Updates on bicycle safety

| March 1, 2017

Sarasota County staff is planning to paint “sharrows” on Ocean Boulevard where no bike lane exists, SKA Director Harold Ashby told the approximately 50 people attending the nonprofit’s February meeting.

The goal in putting down these images of bikes with directional arrows, he said, is to remind motorists that they have to share the road.

“They won’t paint the pavers, but they’ll paint the asphalt,” he added of county crew members, referring to the stretch from Beach Road through Siesta Village to the Treasure Boat Way intersection where no bike lanes are designated. The work probably will be done this summer, he said.

Patrick Lui, coordinator of the county’s Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails program plans to coordinate with the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and Ashby about the timing of the addition of the sharrows to the road. Obviously, Lui pointed out, it would be better to wait until after season to schedule the project.

Asked about the cost, Lui said he estimated it would be between $3,000 and $4,000; the funds will come out of the county’s Capital Improvement Program allocation for the county’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

The distance the sharrows will cover is close to half a mile, Lui added. County staff plans to send a postcard to property owners in the surrounding area before the work gets underway, he noted, to advise them about what will be taking place.

Lui praised the efforts of Ashby and Gene Kusekoski — who has been collaborating with Ashby — to educate people about bike safety on the island and to make improvements. “It’s real important to have residents like Harold and Gene to be leaders in the community,” Lui added, calling them “community champions.”

Lui also pointed out that the county has put down about 10 lane miles of sharrows since the start of 2016. For more about the county’s Ride & Stride program regarding bicyclists and pedestrians, Lui refers people to the Ride & Stride Facebook page.

During the SKA meeting, Ashby also pointed out that although Florida state law allows bicyclists to ride on sidewalks, that is a dangerous practice.

During the discussion, an audience member asked Ashby how to resolve a problem on Treasure Boat Way, up to the Higel Avenue intersection. The grass has grown out into the bike lane, the woman explained, “and has never been cut back.” Thus, the bike lane has been narrowed, she told Ashby.

“We’ll talk to them about it,” Ashby replied, referring to county staff members.

However, Gene Kusekoski suggested that that would be “the perfect thing” for SeeClickFix, a county app that allows people to use their smartphones to take photos of problems and then email them to the county, so the issues can be remedied.

“It’s on our website,” Ashby added of the link to SeeClickFix. “These guys are good,” he said. Whenever he has used the system to report a problem, Ashby told the audience, the issue has been resolved quickly.

During the SKA’s Jan. 12 meeting, Ashby also commented on the island bicycle maps the organization had printed last year. “They’ve been flying off the shelves,” especially at the public beach, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce’s office in Davidson Plaza and grocery stores on the island.

The SKA’s next goal, he said then, was to distribute them to the condominium complexes on the Key, so they could be inserted into visitors’ packets and placed among other informational material people could pick up for free in condo offices.

Ashby also noted that he had obtained bicycle crash data for Siesta Key for the two previous years, which was available from the University of Florida. During that period, he said, 20 crashes reported on the island involved injuries and/or property damage. “Twenty is a big deal, and fortunately, there were no deaths.”

He and Kusekoski met with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) representatives earlier that week, he said. “They were kind of shocked [at the statistics].” The data should be useful, he continued, as the SKA seeks grant funds for repairs to Midnight Pass Road, which “is very difficult to ride because of uneven surfaces.”

He and Kusekoski showed the FDOT representatives some of the problem areas, he said. In fact, as they were walking along, Ashby noted, they passed a bicyclist at one point. When one of the FDOT representatives turned back to watch the cyclist, Ashby continued, “the guy almost fell, hitting one of the obstacles that we had pointed out. They’re convinced there’s a problem,” he added of the FDOT staff members, and they said they would work on a resolution.

The SKA also will be partnering with the Out-of-Door Academy on the Key to host a bicycle safety course, Ashby told the audience. Representatives of the school “are very enthusiastic [about it],” he said. He promised to provide more details on that in the future.

Further, Ashby continued, representatives of the League of American Bicyclists — an organization based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for cyclists — will be sending its vice president to meet with Ashby and Kusekoski this month to discuss the possibility of Siesta Key’s being designated a Bicycle Friendly Community.

“It’s like Dr. Beach for bicyclists,” Ashby explained. “It is a significant achievement.”

Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University is known worldwide as “Dr. Beach” for his annual Top 10 list of beaches in the United States.

“It’ll probably take us a couple of years to get through the process of getting recognized [for bicycling],” Ashby pointed out. The League’s website explains that the Bicycle Friendly America “program is a tool for states, communities, business and universities to make bicycling a real transportation and recreation option for all people.”

Finally, Ashby talked about how “bicyclists are their own worst enemy,” creating problems for themselves by not obeying the law. For example, he said, some of them ride the wrong way on the street; the law calls for them to follow the same traffic patterns as motor vehicles do. “We need to talk to the Sheriff’s Office about enforcing the rules here,” Ashby added.

Audience member Margaret Jean Cannon took the opportunity to point out that cars often are parked illegally in the bike lanes on Beach Road, as well as on sidewalks. That needs to be addressed, she said, “especially with season coming up.”

That is another matter the SKA can bring up with the Sheriff’s Office, Ashby replied.

A second audience member pointed out that many of the culprits are workmen. “They have no other place to park in most cases,” Ashby responded then, noting that residents do not want construction crew members’ vehicles in their yards for fear of oil leaks, for example.

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