by Mitch Perry
On Wednesday night in Tampa, approximately 65 bicyclists met up at Curtis Hixon Park, joining cyclists around the world in observing the annual Ride to Silence. The ride honors bicyclists who've been killed or injured in traffic crashes and raises awareness about bike safety.
Before the cyclists took off on their police-escorted ride through downtown, they held a moment of silence to honor riders killed over the past year in Hillsborough County. They were: John Thompson, 47; Freddie Alonso, 44; Robert Policastro, 60; Michael Lee, 29; Christopher Goddard, 22; Daniel Hernandez, 59; Rudolph Moncur, 59; Anthony Del Favero, 47; Antonio Leon, 56; Carmen Pando, 26; Anthony Greene, 16; and Quinton Davis, 19.
"If we get eight more before this year's over it will be 200 dead bicyclists on the roads of this county in just over 21 years," organizer Jose Menendez told the riders as they gathered in the park. Holding up a list of the names of 44 bicyclists who have been killed in Hillsborough County since 2010, he said, "This list is what this ride is all about. Not only to remember the men, women and children on it — but to hopefully prevent more names from winding up on it."
The ride came on the heels of a new report issued this week that named the Tampa Bay area region the country's second most dangerous in the country when it comes to pedestrian deaths, trailing only Orlando.
"The fact is all of those high-risk areas are Sunbelt states and they're areas that grew up with the automobile," said Jim Shirk, a major advocate for cycling in Tampa. "The only way to solve this problem is to begin working on infrastructure — to make it more bicycle/pedestrian friendly, and to work on enforcement and education and evaluation — because if you don't measure you don't manage."
Gandy Boulevard area cyclist Jim Harper says he does feel safe riding his bike in Tampa, but only because he avoids routes that involve too much vehicle traffic. "I'm afraid of cars when I'm on a bike," he admits. He gets up daily at around 5 a.m. and rides to Ballast Point Park when there are virtually no cars on the road.
Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione spoke briefly to the cyclists before they embarked on their journey on Wednesday night. She praised City of Tampa staffers for doing all they could to be proactive, but said the way she can influence the discussion is through her role as vice chair of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization (MPO), and more specifically as chair of the Livable Roadways Committee of the MPO. That's because many of the most dangerous roads in the city are run by the state, not the city, and therefore can only be addressed by the state Department of Transportation (FDOT), which lately has been hosting so-called "safety summits" to address the problem with pedestrian safety. "When projects come up at MPO, I can advocate for things I've learned in these safety summits," Montelione says.
She says education is also a key element for both residents and visitors who walk and bike on Tampa roads.
And in this morning's Tampa Tribune, Hillsborough County Commission Chair Mark Sharpe writes about a number of projects that the County is embarking on to address pedestrian and bicyclist safety, including an $8.5 million bike and pedestrian safety program.