Bicycle, pedestrian deaths on the rise in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- You may think crime is most dangerous thing in Jacksonville. But in reality, car crashes kill more people than homicides on the First Coast.

The fatality rate is on the rise in Jacksonville in the areas of bicyclists and pedestrians. Last year's fatalities were up 5 percent and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is concerned that 2014 will be another deadly year.

"I thought I was going to bleed to death on the side of the street," said Harley Michael Henry with the Jacksonville Bicycle Coalition. He had a close call with a car downtown in December of 2009.

"They cut me off in the three lanes that turns into four, where it yields and turns to a turn lane, they cut me off and ran me into the curb," he said.

The driver never stopped and Harley had multiple injuries to his face and neck. He has recovered and continues to cycle, but he wants there to be more education of laws available to drivers and cyclists. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, along with the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Transportation, are launching a campaign called Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow to try and educate drivers, cyclist and pedestrians about the existing laws.

For example, drivers are legally supposed to give bicyclists at least three feet of room when passing. Cyclists must obey all the rules of the road that cars do. Also, bicycles must have a light on the front and a light or reflector on the back for night rides.

"Some drivers give us a full lane as far as passing, some drivers get pretty close," said Mike Scarborough with Bicycles Etc.

When it comes to the increase of cyclists versus car, Scarborough thinks it is simple math. More people bicycling and more drivers in ever growing Jacksonville means more crashes. He educates his bike groups before they head out about the rules of riding and gives safety tips.

"When we are coming up to an intersection, when you see a car, you make eye contact with driver and that way you can still continue along and you will not get hit," he said.

Also, Scarborough adds that Jacksonville needs to take cyclists into account when engineers design the roadways.

"I think the biggest part is that there is no master plan to Jacksonville. It is kind of reactionary," said Scarborough.

A report called Dangerous by Design by Transportation for America ranked Jacksonville as the third worst for cyclist and pedestrian safety. With bike lanes that sometimes go between two fast moving lanes of traffic or several bridges that don't provide bike lanes, it can put cyclists in an uneasy position.

"Those same engineers and politicians that design the roads, they should actually ride those lanes and see how safe it is. It is a little intimidating," told Scarborough.

The bottom line is that safety is a shared responsibility between drivers and cyclists. Mike and Harley both say if more drivers and cyclists simply followed the legal rules of the road, the number of fatal crashes would go down.

The issue of pedestrian safety is also a concern for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and it is stepping up patrols for jaywalking.

"If they are doing it now, they are going to do it again," said Officer Joel Andres who works in Zone 3. It has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities last year at 55 deaths.

To a pedestrian, jaywalking may seem like a minor infraction. Yet, it is having deadly consequences especially in areas termed the "Corridors of Concern."

Six problem areas that got the name from the amount of fatal crashes killing bicyclists and pedestrians:

-Downtown: near the JTA Bus Terminal

-Arlington: Atlantic Boulevard near Kernan Boulevard

-Southside: J. Turner Butler Boulevard between Southside Boulevard and Hodges Boulevard

-Westside: 103rd from Ricker Road to Blanding Boulevard

-Northwest: 7300 block of Lem Turner Road

-Northside: Dunn Avenue from the 900 block to the 3000 block

Traffic homicide officers are studying these areas and taking hard look at what lead to the deaths to see what is needed, whether it is an engineering problem or education of the dangers or a more intense enforcement of the laws like jaywalking.

Officers John and Joel Andres let First Coast News follow them on one of their patrols on San Jose Boulevard and Old Saint Augustine Road near the K-Mart shopping center. Within a few minutes, a person tried to cross the multiple lanes of San Jose Blvd.

The officers stopped the pedestrian and warned her of the dangers of running across traffic. She was only given a warning, but a ticket for jaywalking will cost $62.50.

Just as soon as the female jaywalker began toward the bus stop nearby, another person darted out to cross the six lanes of traffic instead of using a crosswalk. Again the officers stopped the young man and told him about the dangers of not using a crosswalk.

"You might clear that first car, but that middle car and that left side car are not going to see you," explained Officer Joel Andres.

Many of the pedestrians said they knew it was against the law, but it was faster to cut across than to walk to a stop walk. In the month of May, JSO will begin ticketing people for offenses like jaywalking to try and cut back on its occurrence and hopefully cut down the number of pedestrian vs. car crashes.

"They think 'I could save 5 steps or maybe save that ten steps and then cross mid block' and then get run over and that is the last decision they ever make," said Officer John Andres.

A decision and problem that haunts our roadways as more and more memorials of flowers are placed on the sides of the streets.

A common misconception is that pedestrians think they always have the right of way, no matter where they cross. They don't: Pedestrians only have the right of way in a cross walk. If there is no crosswalk available, walkers must yield to traffic. Also, people walking along a roadway without a sidewalk should always walk facing the traffic.

For more information about bicycle and pedestrian laws and JSO's Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow campaign, click here.


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