By Justin Katz | firstname.lastname@example.org
Flagler College senior John Eick was riding his bike to campus from his house in West King when he was struck by a car speeding through the intersection of Alexander and Madeore Street.
He was injured, with road rash on his right arm, as well as cuts and bruises, but what scares Eick is what could have been. The impact was lessened because only the front wheel was hit.
“It wasn’t pleasant but it could have been a lot worse,” Eick said.
The accident wasn’t isolated. Eick has faced similar incidents since then.
“It seems that people aren’t careful around bicyclists,” Eick said. “I’ve had a few near misses with mirrors before.”
Although Eick was not seriously injured, his incident is just one of the many. According to reports from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, traffic crashes in St. Johns County have been steadily rising since 2010. St. Augustine has doubled – from 444 crashes in 2011 to 959 crashes in 2013.
Local police attribute the rise to a growing population.
“In the last few years, St. Johns County specifically has remained one of the fastest growing counties in the state,” said Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant Dylan Bryan. “[FHP] noticed an increase in certain categories [of crashes] specifically involving pedestrians and bicyclists.”
According to FHP reports, bicycle crashes in St. Johns County went from 47 to 62 between 2012 and 2013 – a 32 percent increase.
The number of accidents could be low, considering some aren’t reported. In 2013, there were four bicycle fatalities; it’s incidents like these that are causing residents of St. Johns County to to step up and change things.
Eric Hoffman, associate professor of Communications, Ph.D., started a PR campaign called “One Road” to try to reduce bicycle accidents around the state.
Hoffman said that northeast Florida is a particularly dangerous place for cyclists.
“By some reports, it is the third most dangerous place in the country to ride a bicycle,” Hoffman said. “In other reports, it is the number one most dangerous place.”
Hoffman attributes it to substandard roads, the lack of bike lanes and an overall confusion from motorists on what the law is concerning bicyclists.
Law enforcement is working to educate the public. Commander Chuck Mulligan, Public Information Officer for the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office, says that investigating an accident isn’t straightforward.
“Every crash is different,” said Mulligan, who was a traffic homicide investigator for several years. “People wonder why it takes so long to come up with a report on what happened in a crash when someone has died. It’s because there’s so many variables that have to be considered.”
Weather conditions, the time of day and possible distractions must be examined before police can submit a report.
Hoffman, who is an avid cyclist, feels that distracted drivers and road deficiencies are only one part of the problem.
“There are negative attitudes on both sides,” Hoffman said. “Motorists think bikes shouldn’t be on the road and bicyclists think they should be able to ride where they want.”
Hoffman is working to reduce near misses like that with a special campaign. Cyclists will collaborate with local police to reward good behavior on the road. If a driver uses good practices, like passing a cyclist at a safe distance, law enforcement will pull the car over and reward them with a gift card.
Sergeant Bryan says that drivers have more control than cyclists on the road.
“Ultimately, we need to put the responsibility where it lies,” Bryan said. “With the driver.”
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