This Bradenton street is the worst in the city for crashes with pedestrians, cyclists, cops say

Pedestrian safety: Know the rules of the road

Lakeland, Florida, Police Department Captain Victor White explains the responsibility that both drivers and pedestrians have to watch out for each other. Walking or driving while distracted can cause serious injuries and many times even death.
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Lakeland, Florida, Police Department Captain Victor White explains the responsibility that both drivers and pedestrians have to watch out for each other. Walking or driving while distracted can cause serious injuries and many times even death.

Driving in the city of Bradenton can be frustrating with traffic backing up in the busy season. But motorists are not the only ones on the road, and First Street is the worst road for those on bicycles and on foot, according to police.

Lt. Brian Thiers, spokesman for the Bradenton Police Department, said Friday that a stretch of First Street — a six-lane thoroughfare dividing the city — is the worst location for pedestrian and cyclist-involved crashes.

In 2017 alone, there were one fatal and four serious injury pedestrian and bicyclist-involved crashes along First Street between the Manatee River and 13th Avenue.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Matrix, Bradenton was the top-ranked city with a population of 15,000 to 74,999 in pedestrian or bicyclist crashes with serious injuries and fatalities between 2012 and 2016.

First Street, Thiers said, is the area where officers will be focusing a high-visibility enforcement program promoting pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“We’re there to educate first. We want to explain to people the dangers of crossing outside the crosswalk or riding outside at night without a light, or even walking at night with dark clothing on. Most of our fatalities that I know of related directly back to not being able to see the person or them coming across the road where they shouldn’t have been in the first place,” Theirs said.

The vast majority of incidents, more than 90 percent, are attributed to the cyclist or pedestrian, Thiers said. Sometimes it’s pedestrians not using the crosswalk, others it’s cyclists going against traffic. Many of the crashes, according to Thiers, occur at night, and motorists not being able to see the pedestrian or cyclist often plays a part in the incident.

But it’s not just pedestrians and cyclists who need to keep an eye on their surroundings, it’s motorists, too.

Officals asked motorists to stay vigilant on the roads and keep an eye out for cyclists and pedestrians. Melissa Wandall, an advocacy spokeswoman and president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads, said it’s important for drivers to look both ways before turning right on red at an intersection — left for possible oncoming cyclists and right for possible pedestrians in the crosswalk.

She also urged pedestrians to use the crosswalk, and wait for the proper signal to cross.

“At the end of the day we want to take care of our humans, we want to make sure we’re as safe as we can be,” Wandall said.

Nationally, about 1,100 deaths resulted from cyclists colliding with vehicles in 2015, according to a National Safety Council report on unintentional injuries.

Scott Lagasse Jr., a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, is also a self-proclaimed avid cyclist and is glad to see law enforcement making efforts to educate the public about safety on the roads. He appeared with police at a news conference on Friday.

“One of the questions I get all the time, ‘Are you worried driving at 200 mph of your life?’ And my response is, ‘Nowhere near as much as when I’m on my bike,’” Lagasse said.

During the second phase of a high visibility enforcement program, Bradenton police officers will be working to increase awareness of pedestrian and bicycle safety not only through education, but with increased enforcement. Thiers said officers who sign up for the special detail will be in motion and stationary with shifts focused on times where they see the most incidents.

Grant funds issued to the department will pay for the overtime details.

Lagasse, who drives the No. 20 Chevrolet Silverado for Young’s Motorsports, recalled just one of several interactions he’s had with motorists while on his bicycle.

A few months ago, he had a close call with a vehicle while riding along Highway A1A. A vehicle buzzed by him and a friend, giving an unfriendly gesture along the way. Down the road, Lagasse saw the driver at a gas station and spoke to him.

“Pretty quickly he got confrontational with me about what I was doing and I just explained to him, ‘You scared me. I have nothing here, I have a vest and a plastic Styrofoam helmet and that’s it and you’re in a car,’” Lagasse said.

The conversation worked, as just a mile down the road later, Lagasse was again forced to ride his bike into a lane of vehicle traffic to avoid debris in the bike lane. The same driver was nearby, but this time he slowed down, moved over a lane and went on without issue, Lagasse recalled.

He knows how bad bicycle incidents can be, even when they don’t involve vehicles. About two years ago, his father spent 17 days in the intensive care unit after an accident on his bike.

“It is when you’re that vulnerable and a car goes by you 20 mph faster than you its scary,” Lagasse said.

Friday, officials and Lagasse urged pedestrians and cyclists to wear highly visible clothing and use safety gear such as lights when they are out. Lagasse said he uses lights during the daylight hours as well, and it’s helped decrease the number of interactions he’s had with motorists.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh