MANATEE -- Manatee County is far from the safest place in the world to ride a bicycle or walk on a street.
And in Manatee County, the worst place to do either is Cortez Road and U.S. 41, recently released statistics show.
But this summer the Florida Highway Patrol is combining public education with enforcement as it focuses the attention of its 20 Manatee road troopers on bicycles and pedestrians.
“This is the one area in Manatee County accidents where we are seeing a general upward trend,” said Lt. Chris Miller, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman.
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Although figures are not yet in for 2010, the number of deaths caused by a vehicle hitting a pedestrian in Manatee County spiked to 13 in 2009 after being at seven in 2007, Miller said.
Although the number of deaths caused by a vehicle hitting a bicycle was just one in 2009 and is not yet in for 2010, the number of bicycle riders injured in Manatee County crashes with vehicles jumped from 96 in 2006 to 99 in 2008 and 101 in 2009, Miller said.
Heightened attention will be paid to ultra-busy Cortez Road and U.S. 41, where statistics show the most pedestrian and bicycle accidents occur, Miller said.
The statistics are not surprising to Dave Holt, who not only owns Ringling Bikes on Manatee Avenue West, but rides a bike eight hours a week.
Holt blames Manatee’s infrastructure the most.
“I have found that most people understand the law that you must give bikes 3 feet of space,” Holt said. “New drivers to the state sometimes don’t realize that here in Florida we bicycle riders have the right to share the road with them.
“But as far as the roads here, U.S. 41 has no bike lanes, no sidewalks and people in wheelchairs sometime drive in the slow lane.” Holt added. “They just haven’t made an attempt here to set up anything for cyclists.”
Holt’s favorite biking roads are in Parrish and Ellenton and include Buckeye, Erie, Carter and Bud Rhoden.
“We find the drivers out in the rural areas of the county are courteous,” Holt said.
Two of Holt’s employees -- bike technicians Jonathan Hufty and Craig Prather -- don’t even own a car, choosing to get around exclusively on their bicycles.
What must a bike rider do to avoid injury in Manatee?
“A lot of it is left to the skill of the person riding,” Hufty said. “Drivers see a bicycle and think it’s going 5 MPH when avid cyclists routinely go 20 MPH,” Holt said.
Pedestrians and bicycle riders, as well as the motorists they encounter, often don’t know how Florida law defines how they are to treat each other, which often creates tragic consequences, Miller said.
“Some people believe traffic must yield to them because they are walking, which is not what the law states,” Miller said. “The only place a pedestrian has the right of way is within a crosswalk within an intersection. Pedestrians not doing this will be cited this summer.
“If sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk off the roadway but must walk facing the flow of traffic,” Miller added.
Bicycle riders must obey all traffic laws, including riding with the flow of traffic and stopping for red lights and stop signs.
Bicycles also must be equipped with headlights and taillights for night riding.
This summer, the Florida Highway Patrol will be ticketing those who violate these laws.
“We are going to specifically look for pedestrian and bicycle violators,” Miller said. “We will be looking for bikes going against the flow, cutting in front of cars and not stopping at red lights and stop signs. We will also be looking at vehicles not giving bikes three feet of passing space.
“We will also be looking for pedestrians not yielding to motorists,” Miller added.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.