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Death highlights bike safety

The Gainesville Sun: Death highlights bike safety

By Cindy Swirko
Staff writer

Published: Friday, November 13, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 11:02 p.m.

A Gainesville man was killed Wednesday night when he was hit on his bicycle by a motorist on North Main Street, but officers who routinely see bicyclists riding dangerously and illegally say the same fate could befall others at any time.

The man, whose name has not been released because family has not been notified, was riding at night without required lights, was pedaling in a center turn lane rather than the side of the traffic lane and was wearing dark clothing, police said.

It’s the same behavior seen daily by bicyclists around Gainesville, where cycling is a common means of transportation.

"During the day, it’s typically running stop signs or riding the wrong way, and at night, it’s not having lights," said University Police Capt. Jeff Holcomb, who said campus officers routinely warn or ticket violators. "At night, being visible, being able to be seen by others, is the main point we try to make."

The man died about 10:21 p.m. at Shands at the University of Florida, said Gainesville Police Lt. Larry Seale.

The victim, who was known to police, is believed to have lived in a homeless camp in the woods off Main Street north of 39th Avenue, Seale said. Police said homeless people often use bikes for transportation.

The accident occurred about 6 p.m. in darkness when the man was riding his bike north in the center turn lane in the 4000 block of Main Street. He was struck by a vehicle driven by Eric Douglas, an employee of Gainesville Nissan, who was southbound and about to turn into the auto dealership, Seale said.

The bicyclist was taken to Shands, where he later died.

Douglas was not cited for the accident and likely won’t be, said Lt. Pete Backhaus.

Alachua County had four bicycle fatalities in 2008, five in 2007, two in 2006, zero in 2005 and three in 2004, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

In January, a 6-year-old girl on a bicycle died when she was struck by a semi in a northwest Gainesville neighborhood. Other bicyclists have been hit in 2009, but survived.

In some cases, the drivers were found to be at fault and were charged. In other cases, the bicyclists were considered to be at fault.

Traffic safety experts said bicycles are vehicles under Florida law and riders are expected to follow the same laws such as riding with traffic and stopping at signals and signs. Bicyclists are also required to use front and rear lights at night.

GPD issued 146 citations to bicyclists for traffic violations in 2008, said Lt. Keith Kameg. So far this year, 130 have been issued.

Sgt. Joe Raulerson of GPD’s traffic unit said the agency is particularly on the look-out for bicyclists breaking the law in neighborhoods such as College Park, where residents will sometimes complain to police about scofflaws.

"Unfortunately, some bicyclists don’t stop for stop signs," Raulerson said. "At night, wearing something reflective would help. Be cautious of traffic, especially at night because it is hard to judge speeds of other vehicles."

Holcomb added that with the recent time change that brings darkness earlier, UPD officers recently went to four locations on campus and handed out flashing lights that can be used on bikes to encourage students to make themselves more visible.

"They don’t make it legal because you can’t fasten them to the bike as required, but at least we can educate them," Holcomb said. "I told people the flashing lights get your attention. The more the merrier - put three or four lights on."