“It’s not the roads. The roads are just sitting there by themselves.”
— Marianne Trussell, chief safety officer for Florida’s Department of Transportation
Traffic accidents took the lives of 125 cyclists in Florida in 2008, the year for which the latest figures are available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
California was second with 109, Texas third with 53 and New York fourth with 42.
The figures for 2007: 1) Florida, 119; 2) California, 109; 3) New York, 51; 4) Texas, 48.
A total of 716 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in all 50 states in 2008 and an additional 52,000 injured. Both the number of deaths and injuries were up from 2007, when 698 “pedalcyclists” — the term used by the NHTSA — “were killed and an additional 44,000 were injured in traffic crashes.”
The NHTSA says that about 53,000 cyclists have been killed in the United States since 1932, when an estimated 350 cyclists died. That was the year when such statistics were first recorded.
Florida’s ranking at the top or near the top of the list year after year has perplexed state officials, said a weekend story in USA Today.
“There are so many factors involved and most of them are random,” said Marianne Trussell, chief safety officer for Florida’s Department of Transportation, as quoted by USA Today. “We’re trying to figure out root causes and how we can fix it.”
The newspaper cited several contributing factors:
— Torrid population growth. Florida has almost seven times as many people as in 1950, from 2.8 million to 18.5 million. That means a lot more drivers — and cyclists — on a rapidly expanding road network.
— Climate. Because the weather in most of Florida is balmy year-round, people tend to spend more time outside. Again, that means more cyclists on the road and more often.
— Tourism. Last year, 80.3 million people visited the state, according to Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation. “Sometimes, when people factor in fatalities on a per-capita basis, they may not be calculating the impact of tourists,” said Louis Malenfant, president of the Center for Education and Research in Safety, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., and New Brunswick, Canada.
In the final stages of a transcontinental bike ride last fall, I cycled without mishap across the top of Florida, from Pensacola in the west to St. Augustine on the Atlantic Coast. That segment of the trip didn’t seem any more dangerous — or less dangerous — than the rest of the 3,130-mile journey.
The United States, overall, is still far from being a bicycle-friendly country. So nearly everywhere, a cyclist is at risk from motorized vehicles on a road network designed almost exclusively for cars and trucks.
There are, of course, exceptions, and one of them is in Florida. Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, is blessed with roads equipped with wide shoulders and bicycle lanes. And a cyclist heading out of town to the east can ride 16 miles on a wonderful, paved trail through Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park to the town of Hawthorne.