Why Are Florida’s Streets So Deadly for Cycling?

This intersection in Tampa ranks as a "hot spot," among the most dangerous in Florida for cyclists. Image: Florida Department of Transportation Research Center
This intersection in Tampa ranks as a "hot spot," among the most dangerous in Florida for cyclists. Image: Florida Department of Transportation Research Center

Florida has a well-earned reputation as a dangerous place to bike. In 2014, 139 bicyclists lost their lives on Florida roads. They accounted for 20 percent of total cyclist fatalities in the U.S. that year, in a state with just six percent of the nation’s population. A recent study funded by the Florida Department of Transportation takes an in-depth look at why its streets are so deadly — and what can be done to change that.

Researchers at Florida International University reviewed police reports for the 2,954 bicycle collisions at five “hot spots” with the most bike crashes in each of FDOT’s seven regional districts, between 2011 and 2014.

In 46 percent of crashes, the driver was found to be at fault, while cyclists were at fault 30 percent of the time. Crashes at these locations typically involved drivers turning left or right, or cyclists and drivers pulling out into an intersection with cross traffic.

The authors analyze these types of crashes in detail and recommend engineering changes to improve safety, such as leading pedestrian intervals, which hold back turning drivers and could allow cyclists a head start. They also suggest tightening street corners so drivers make turns at slower speeds, and installing speed humps to slow drivers who run stop signs.

“The findings and recommendations developed in this report will assist designers and planners in the continuing effort to improve bicycle safety on Florida roadways,” FDOT said in a summary of the study.

Asked for more detail, however, Joseph B. Santos, FDOT’s state safety engineer, was noncommittal. “The research efforts did showcase initial findings from key bicycle countermeasures,” he said, “but will need to be vetted before being potentially incorporated into department policies and procedures.”

The researchers also found some interesting patterns in an analysis of all 10,546 bicycle collisions statewide from 2011 to 2014.

Fatality rates varied greatly throughout the state, from a low of 3.8 deaths per million people in Miami-Dade County to a high of 10 deaths per million people in Pinellas and Brevard counties. Census blocks with high portions of car-free households were more likely to be the scene of bicycle crashes, though not necessarily fatal ones, as were areas with high proportions of black or Latino residents.

Bicycle crashes were more likely to result in death or injury on streets with higher speed limits, and multi-lane roads were more deadly than narrower streets.

Large vehicles are also particularly deadly; more than 14 percent of bike crashes with medium and heavy trucks caused death, compared to just 1.7 percent of crashes with passenger cars.

  • Ed Beighe

    from what i gather, they only look at / worry about “State Roads”, as in roads under the control of the DOT, as distinct from all other roads (city/county). This makes me wonder if the crashes they analyzed are representative of road across the state??

    quote —

    During the analysis years 2011-2014, of the total 26,036 bicycle crashes, 10,580 crashes occurred on state roads…

  • Brad Aaron

    “Asked for more detail, however, Joseph B. Santos, FDOT’s state safety engineer, was noncommittal. “The research efforts did showcase initial findings from key bicycle countermeasures,” he said, “but will need to be vetted before being potentially incorporated into department policies and procedures.””

    Translation: “We’ll get right on that.”

  • Vooch

    Anyone who wants to be terrified should sit in the passenger seat of a driver in their 80s fora hour long drive.

    Drivers in their 80s drive like they are dead drunk with nil situational awareness. They can barely hold a lane.

  • wklis

    Just by looking at the photo showing the w-i-d-e corners, the motor vehicles (and bicyclists that that matter) can make the right turns at h-i-g-h speeds. If the corners were tighter or protected corners for bicyclists, the motorists would have to slow down making the turn.

  • Looking at that photo: there’s an auto collision garage on one corner, next to an auto paint shop, across the street from an auto body shop and a car wash on the other side of the street. The monster sized intersection allows cars to make high speed turns, without any design accommodation for bicycles; and here’s the kicker, the discolored rusted rail line that parallels the street would make for a great separated bikeway. That photo clearly shows why biking in Florida is so dangerous. When our streets are only designed for vehicles, they become deadly for everyone else. Duh!

  • Alden Wilner

    Yeah, well the 4-year-olds are even worse.

  • CVASN

    That RR track is still active, Ziggy.

  • HamTech87

    Let’s not abandon any more freight railways. That just puts even more trucks on the streets.

  • HamTech87

    More evidence the transportation engineering profession, while wrapping themselves in scientific methodology, is not scientific at all.

    I’m reminded of the hormone-replacement medical study 15 years ago. The findings were so obvious to medical researchers that they halted the study on ethical grounds. No further “vetting” needed.
    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2002/july10/hormone.html

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    It has just as much to do with the planners (of which I am one). Land use drives transportation, and vice versa. That area looks like it has a grid, but when you start looking at block lengths and limited crossings of major arterials the grid really is not present. And that is largely a result of how the land use developed (classic Euclidian, separated uses and car-dependent land-use.)

    I teach a bike/ped transportation safety and design class and almost all the attendees are engineers. Rarely are planners plugged into this stuff.

  • The authors analyze these types of crashes in detail and recommend engineering changes to improve safety, such as leading pedestrian intervals, which hold back turning drivers and could allow cyclists a head start. They also suggest tightening street corners so drivers make turns at slower speeds, and installing speed humps to slow drivers who run stop signs.