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Bicycle riders and motorists fight to share the coastal roads in

Palm Beach Post: Bicycle riders and motorists fight to share the coastal roads in Palm Beach County

By BILL DIPAOLO
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, August 31, 2009

JUNO BEACH — Sharing the road isn’t happening.

A recent joust between bike riders and an A1A motorist in Boca Raton highlights the growing conflict between pedalers and drivers. In Jupiter Island, commissioners plan to discuss a proposed ordinance Sept. 14 that would limit riding on the town’s popular oceanfront roadway that draws up to 800 riders on a weekend day.

"Motorists have roads. Pedestrians have sidewalks. If bike riders had their own dedicated lanes, it would be safer for everyone," said Jim Smith, co-founder of Safety As Floridians Expect, a bike safety group in Delray Beach.

Eager to stop the Jupiter Island commission from bringing up the ordinance, members of the Northern Palm Beaches Bicycle Club on Aug. 23 did their last Sunday morning ride on the island’s South Beach Road. The group, sometimes as many as 80, now rides on U.S. 1.

When smaller groups do ride through the lush landscaping on the island’s curvy oceanfront road, they slow down and obey stop signs. They ride single file.

"Not being able to ride along South Beach Road has struck me right in my heart. But you can’t fight City Hall," said Jeff Orr, a 25-year veteran of the morning 26-mile round-trip rides from Marcinski Road in Jupiter to Port Salerno.

The ordinance was proposed because commissioners said bike riders block traffic when they ride four and five abreast. They do not pull over for ambulances. They buzz beyond the 30-per-hour speed limit.

Jupiter Island Police Chief Ted Gonzalez said they also "draft" just a few feet behind each other, increasing the likelihood of a crash.

About 17 bike riders in the last two years have crashed on the island and were taken to local hospitals, said Gonzalez, who is also a bike rider.

Motorists also have their mean side, said Hobe Sound resident Cliff Ingham, riding on a recent afternoon on the island’s south end. He’s had bottles tossed at him, been yelled at and cut off by motorists.

A few passing drivers have clipped his handlebars, refusing to stay the required three feet from a moving bike rider. As he spoke, he noted a vehicle with the special "Share the Road" license plate.

"Drivers pull right out of their fancy driveways and can’t see us coming on A1A. The town should make them cut back their bushes. The road is mine too," Ingham, 57, said, shirtless as he happily pedaled with a strong north wind at his back.

Florida bike riders suffered the most bicycle accident deaths in 2007. Approximately 119 to 121 deaths resulted from 4,847 bike crashes in Florida in 2007. Ten were in Palm Beach County. Nationally, Florida had more bike deaths than California and New York, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

More regulations are not the answer, said Delray Beach Mayor Nelson McDuffie. The south county stretch of A1A is one of the county’s most popular - and congested - areas for bike riders. McDuffie is meeting with south county bike riding clubs to smooth out conflicts, such as the one two weeks ago that resulted in the arrest of Lighthouse Point bike rider Tom McDonald of Lighthouse Point.

McDonald, 50, was arrested on simple assault charge after Boca Raton police said he attacked motorist Miles Barish, 69. McDonald told police Barish drove too close to him. Barish told police McDonald attacked him after Barish pulled over on A1A.

"Police have more important things to do than enforce bike riding regulations," McDuffie said.

Ocean breezes and gorgeous scenery are not the only reasons bike riders take to coastal roads. U.S. 1 and other east-west roads are more dangerous, Orr said.

More bike riders are killed and injured on major east-west roads in Palm Beach County than coastal roads. Lake Worth Road, Forest Hill Boulevard, Okeechobee Boulevard and Indiantown Road all had more fatalities and crashes, according to a 2005 study by the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"The only safe place for us to ride is along the coast," Orr said,