TIPS FROM NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION
* Wear a helmet
* Follow same rules as motor vehicle
* Wear bright clothing
* Share the road - allow at least 3 feet between car and cyclist
* Yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals
* Watch for cyclists when making turns
* Look for cyclists when opening vehicle door or pulling out from parking space
BONITA SPRINGS — Memorials have been appearing throughout Lee County in the form of white bicycles.
The ghost bikes — as they are called — are placed by anonymous people in the middle of the night. The bikes are always painted white, stripped of their gears and labeled with signs that say “cyclist killed” and printed with a date of death.
In Bonita a memorial has stood on U.S. 41 just south of Coconut Point. The memorial was for Kenneth MacDonald, a cyclist who was killed on April 17 when he was struck by a motorist.
The memorial was removed on Wednesday by the Florida Department of Highways, according to Debbie Tower, Public Information Director of the Southwest Area of Florida.
“We certainly understand the community attention to what has happened and the emphasis we all need to put on bicycle and pedestrian safety, we removed it for safety reasons,” Tower said. “We did talk to some of our bicyclists in the area to see who placed it and we want to let whoever placed it know that we will keep it at our North Fort Myers location if they want to claim it.”
Tower said that the state has a memorial marker program that has been in place for the past 15 years for anyone who has lost a family member or friend in a traffic accident. These markers are placed where the State determines they will not interfere with safety, ground utilities and other factors.
"I work for the state. I can't speak for county or city roads,” Tower said.
Two ghost bikes remain on Lee roadways that are not owned by the State.
One is near the intersection of Three Oaks and Estero Parkways where Janet LoFranco was struck by a motorist on Feb. 19 and died the next day. The third is for Tracey Kleinpell and stands near the Sanibel Causeway where Kleinpell was killed on May 7.
There has been no word on whether these ghost bikes will be removed. The memorials stand for riders that vary in ages and background, the circumstances of the accidents are diverse, but each rider is now grouped together in death and memorialized by the biking community through these ghost bikes.
“I bike over the Sanibel Causeway and it is very sobering to see the bike, but it feels respectful and we need to acknowledge that someone lost their life out here,” says Darla Letourneau, policy analyst and community advocate for Bike, Walk, Lee. “Statistics are often depersonalized, but when you see this bike, now you are faced with the person. It is very meaningful and you think, it could have been me, my daughter, my sister.”
Although the bikes are a new addition in Lee County, they have been appearing throughout the United States since 2003, according to the Web site ghostbikes.org. The site says that the bikes are meant to be memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street and they have appeared at more than 150 locations throughout the world. The Web site lists sites by state, although the Lee County sites do not yet appear on the list.
Florida leads the nation in bicycle fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 630 cyclists were killed in 2009 (the most recent data available). Of these 107 were in Florida, 5 in Lee County and 2 in Collier County. Many groups in Florida say that these numbers are not acceptable.
“For 10 years in a row we are the most dangerous state for pedestrians and cyclists,” Letourneau says. “We have debunked all of the myths, it’s not the weather, the time of day, the fact that we have a lot of senior drivers, it is our roads and our culture.”
Bike, Walk, Lee is a grassroots community organization whose mission is to complete the streets of Lee County and to design, build, construct and maintain roads for all of the users.
“We have these main, arterial, roads that intersect with residential neighborhoods; high speed roads in places where people cross the street,” Letourneau says. “This is a huge thing to change. These roads are dangerous by design.”
Another point that Letourneau says leads to bicycle and pedestrian accidents is society. She says that drivers need to understand rules and share the road.
“In our cars we feel so entitled we are in a hurry, we think ‘you are in my way,’” Letourneau says. “As a society we have lost common courtesy. I see it in crosswalks when people look right at you (cyclist). They see you, but they are in a hurry and skirt right by.”
Jay Anderson, executive director of Stay Alive….Just Drive says that drivers are extremely distracted and driver error accounts for 97 percent of accidents. Stay Alive is a nationally-recognized crash prevention, education and awareness program aimed at promoting safe driving and curbing distracted driving.
“The most common response in crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles is ‘I just didn’t see them,’” Anderson says.
He says that people who operate motor vehicles do not recognize little things like pedestrians, bikes and motorcycles.
“Our brains, when they process thoughts, are trained to see large things,” Anderson says. “The thing I stress is that we need to stay alert and stay focused at all times.”
Dr. Stephen Black, avid cyclist and Associate Professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, says that he agrees that motorists often don’t see cyclists. He has been a cyclist and outdoor athlete for 30 years and participated in more than 300 cycling and triathlon endurance events. He is the faculty advisor for the Tri-Eagle Triathlon Club.
“I’ve been down here a little more than 2 years and I have been hit by mirrors 3 times,” Black says. “People aren’t aware or they don’t care that there is a three-foot law in Florida.”
The law states that a driver overtaking a bicycle must maintain a horizontal clearance of at least three feet.
Black says that his area of interest is getting people off the couch and active and that cycling is a low impact activity that most people can do. He says it is discouraging that many people are afraid to bike because they think that the roads are dangerous.
“Motorists need to be aware and cyclists have the same responsibilities as anyone on the road,” Black says. “Cyclists need to ride single file, adhere to the rules and always wear a helmet.”
Letourneau and Black both say that cyclists and drivers can educate themselves about the rules involving cyclists by going online or stopping into most bicycle shops and asking. Both say that they plan out their rides, mapping out where they are going, being prepared and always wearing a helmet. There are also classes offered by organizations like the Florida Bicycle Association for those who want to learn the rules.
“You can join a club or go out with a friend; I like to go with someone who knows their way around the area,” Letourneau says. “I think that some of the better drivers on the road are cyclists because they have sat in the other seat. You know not to get so close to cyclists and to let them move over.”
Anderson says that drivers need to pay attention at all times.
“People say, ‘I only took my eyes off the road for a split second,’” Anderson says. “In that second the pedestrian stepped off the curb, a bicycle had to swerve to avoid debris or the car in front of you stopped. Driving is the most dangerous thing that we do on a daily basis and we take it for granted.”
Anderson says that items like the ghost bikes serve as reminders to drivers to slow down and pay attention.
“I think if we had more reminders, we would be better drivers,” Anderson says. “That is probably the biggest downfall with driving in the United States today, there is no continuing education required.”