Longboat Key Police Department gets to work improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians | Rowboat key
In the middle of the season, traffic everywhere is usually heavy, even for those on two wheels. There is a large population of serious cyclists on Longboat Key, and in tandem with the police department, they are trying to make Gulf of Mexico Drive and the sidewalks safer for everyone involved.
The police department is coming
There is now a bicycle link within the police department. sergeant. Rick Hankins, who leads the department’s accreditation process, is the main contact, but other sergeants such as Dave Cooper also work with the cyclists. The police department approached the Longboat Key Bicycle Association when the accreditation program began, soliciting feedback and working together.
“We’re putting in place a safety program for cyclists and pedestrians, and we’re just kicking it off,” Hankins said. “It’s the whole agency, not just myself… It really takes the whole agency to make this happen.”
Hankins takes note of the most common bicycle and pedestrian issues that crop up and increases education about them. In several service calls, he said, they’ve had reports of stolen bikes, which he wants to combat with a robust bike registration system. Citizens come to the police department to register their bike’s serial number in a national database, so if the bike is reported as stolen, anyone who enters the number into the database can identify who owns it. Another big issue is to remember that cyclists under the age of 16 must always wear a helmet and that all cyclists are encouraged to do so. Finally, Hankins wants to make sure everyone knows that lights are mandatory between sunrise and sunset — white visible 500 feet ahead and red visible 600 feet aft. Around 10% of cycling deaths are due to being poorly visible, i.e. wearing light-coloured clothing or having lights on.
“We’ve had several cyclists hit by motorists, so we really want to promote a safety program…and that includes regulations for pedestrians with crosswalks, signal lights, stopping, standing and parking. “said Hankins.
Essentially, Hankins reinforces a program already in place for the police department. Part of that success was getting in touch with the Longboat Key Bicycle Association, which is a strong group of riders who primarily ride along Gulf of Mexico Drive. Hankins asked for their input on drafting policies to make roadside driving safer. The turnaround time to improve safety is immediate and it has officers talking to motorists blocking the cycle lane every day to help alleviate the most common complaint from cyclists.
“I was tasked with writing and modifying policies for the accreditation program, and part of that initiative was to put in place a bicycle and pedestrian safety program, and that’s how I became the liaison with the LBKBA,” Hankins said. “We can also learn from them and really find out what the needs are, what can we do as a community service to make it safer, so we’ve applied bike safety, lights on bikes and educated about that Stadium.
Longboat Key cyclists weigh in
The Longboat Key Bicycle Association currently has more than 100 members, President Howard Tessler said. He keeps in touch with them through a Google website that emails members about cycling news, safety tips and potential hazards on the key. Regarding communication with the city, Tessler has been in contact with Cooper and Hankins about bike issues and said the city is doing a good job working with cyclists.
“For the most part, you know, our biggest challenge is keeping the bike lanes clear, and they’re 100, 200 percent better than they were three years ago,” Tessler said. “I’m probably the only one calling her…It’s a pain in the neck to call a police report when you’re trying to go for a bike ride…I’d say about once a week is when I do now. In the past, you probably could have done this five days a week.
As for the issues that concern Tessler most, they mostly correspond to what Hankins is trying to update to make cycling safer. Lack of helmets, especially for cyclists on the bike path, and debris or cars on the bike path are two main concerns. Overall, he said, the city has done a good job responding to requests. Public works takes care of glass or grass in the lane and far fewer cars park there than before. But there are still improvements to be made.
“Those who are driving on the sidewalk, I think they’re going too fast, and they don’t always give warnings to pedestrians, especially when they’re approaching from behind,” Tessler said. “They’re above the pedestrian before you know it. I don’t know how many injuries happen on the sidewalk, but I think the sidewalk is not a good place to ride. Lots of people say they won’t ride (in the bike lane) because you’re so close to the cars. And yet, I think there is more evidence that there are more accidents on sidewalks than in bike lanes. Cars pulling out of driveways have almost no clearance on the sidewalk. … Our board has a committee and they’re trying to come up with plans for the future of the Gulf of Mexico Drive bike path.
Where does FDOT come from?
Most of the improvements the LBKBA hopes for should come from the FDOT level rather than the town of Longboat Key. Hankins said he has contacted FDOT, which is eager to help in any way it can.
Due to the width of the bike path, Tessler wants the FDOT to put up signs reminding cars to keep three feet away from cyclists, but said when he contacted the FDOT they said the sign was about roads without regular cycle lanes.
LBKBA member Emmanuel Charron is working on a white paper plan for bike lane improvements to be submitted to the FDOT, namely redesigning the bike lane to be a cohesive seven foot lane rather than the three to five inconsistent feet that she is now. Other updates include a wider sidewalk with a bike lane.
“Gulf of Mexico Drive is unique in terms of bikers,” Charron said. “It attracts serious and casual riders. The Legacy Trail is awesome but there are restrictions (on speed) and GMD offers so much more, or it could if done right.”
The route needs to be redesigned to meet FDOT standards, and Charron’s hope with the plan is to ensure that cyclists have a say in how the updates go. Tessler said he has seen the number of cyclists on the road and on sidewalks increase since the start of the pandemic.
“We like what we have now, but we want to improve it,” Charron said. “If we put enough pressure on and the city is on our side, I think we can do it.”
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