The dangers of cycling in Sarasota
Image of a biking accident. Photo courtesy of

The dangers of cycling in Sarasota

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No one expects that their next bike ride will be their last, but members of the Sarasota community should be aware that if they are riding locally, it could be. A recent analysis by Change Research has found that some of the most dangerous counties for cyclists are in Florida. Pasco County is number one, but Sarasota County is not far behind, placing second on the list of deadliest places to ride in America. The study concludes that on average, 17 people in the United States die each week from a bike-related incident. With seven counties from Florida placing in the top 20 for most threatening to the cyclist community, it’s important to ask how the situation got to be this way.  

Being confined indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic was only bearable for so long, and spending time outside in the open air proved to be the perfect solution for many. People spent their time walking, hiking and the most popular activity—biking. Cycling proved so enjoyable  that the United States experienced a bike shortage. The lack of bike parts and replacements is still an ongoing issue, but the more pressing problem is bike safety. The increase of bikes on the road never prompted an increase in driver awareness, and society will continue to mourn the deaths of about 4,450 people a year until changes are made. 

Since 1975, the number of Floridians 20 years of age and older who have died from a cycling-related incident has tripled. According to a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these deaths are commonly caused by drivers who fail to yield the right of way, disobey traffic laws and improperly or illegally turn. The study found that accidents related to these issues are more prevalent in cities with an aging and growing population, two factors relevant to Sarasota. With a combination of these elements to consider, Sarasota riders need to be vigilant. Also, cyclists should always wear bright colored clothing or reflective gear because the NHTSA study concluded that “… 10% of fatal bicycle accidents occur because a bicyclist was wearing clothing that was too dark to be seen at night.”

Devin Borgwardt is a seasoned cyclist who clocks about 250 miles per week on the roads of Sarasota. In an interview with a Catalyst reporter, he shared that his experience has had its ups and downs. Borgwardt has enjoyed the opportunity to race his bike in cities including Berlin and New York. But biking locally in Sarasota has its downside.  A recent study by Bader Scott predicted that for every 100,000 people in Sarasota and Manatee counties, 5.53 of them will die while riding a bike. 

When considering these troubling statistics, it is important to define the root of the problem. For Borgwardt, the fundamental issue can be chalked up to a few small things, which in turn can have major and deadly effects. 

Devin Borgwardt with his bike. Picture by Lucy Duke.

Borgwardt explained that one of the main issues leading to the increase in cycling accidents is that “… people don’t even realize that bikes have a place on the road.” He went on to describe the psychological theory which concludes that humans will react angrily when presented with atypical stimuli. To many car-owning Sarasota residents, cyclists fall into the abnormal category, which provokes aggressive driving and can result in a car-on-bike crash. This is where the systemic nature of this issue can be easily seen, because not everyone who lives in Sarasota has the luxury of owning a car or obtaining a license, leading many to depend on biking as their mode of transportation. Borgwardt hinted at a “snowballing” effect within this, and said that “less people are riding their bikes in Sarasota” because of the amount of accidents, “which makes the remaining bikers seem more atypical.”

He said other issues to blame for how dangerous it is to cycle in Sarasota originate from a general lack of knowledge about bikers and the ways of the road. There is no section in a driver’s test that tests one’s knowledge of their car’s width, which has caused Brogwardt several close-calls.He said he has been passed by cars going 60 miles per hour “that are inches away,” all because drivers are unaware of the space they take up on  the road in relation to a bike lane. Borgwardt pointed out that another factor he has observed is the “long time intentional movement that the government has had for a more car-centric infrastructure.. 

In Florida, cyclists are drivers and their bikes are considered vehicles. This means that  when accidents between a bike and car occur, it should be taken as seriously as a car-on-car collision. Borgwardt has experienced the opposite, and he remarked that in his experience “… laws surrounding [car-bike collisions] are such a gray area.” 

In 2021 a new Florida law was enacted to help decrease the number of these accidents. The site Advocacy Advance offers a useful summary of the law’s key provisions:

  • Allowing the driver of a vehicle to make a right turn while passing a bicyclist only if the bicyclist is a minimum of 20 feet from the intersection — the bicyclist must generally be far enough away for the driver to make the turn without endangering them
  • Adding bicycle safety questions to the bank of questions used for driver’s license exams in Florida. 
  • Allowing bicyclists riding in groups of 10 or fewer to proceed as a group through an intersection after coming to a full stop — and requiring motorists to let one group pass before proceeding.
  • Making no-passing zones inapplicable to motorists driving to the left of center to avoid a bicyclist, as long as motorists allow for at least three feet of passing clearance. 

Even with these policies, Borgwardt said he is moving to a more bike-friendly city because he doesn’t think that they will be enough to help Sarasota. He shared his suggestions on ways to make the road safer for cyclists. One recommendation was about improving Sarasota’s road infrastructure in general. This doesn’t just mean more bike lanes, but more safe, wide and complete bike lanes that are easy to spot.  

Another proposal from Borgwardt is to implement a more thorough portion in the Florida driver’s test that revolves around biker safety. This could include questions that test  drivers’ knowledge of how wide their cars are and when cyclists have the right of way. Life-ending and life-altering biking accidents happen in mere seconds. Taking just a few minutes to test car drivers on their awareness can help change this.

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