Bicycle safety workshop aims to prevent future fatalities

After nine bicycle-related fatalities in the Tampa Bay area since July – including the death of USF researcher Kayoko Ishizuka in September – bicycle safety has been in high demand.

Tampa BayCycle, a bicycle alliance and a partner of the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at USF, hosts its second workshop of the semester today in the Marshall Student Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and aims to provide students with the skills needed to make the roads safer for cyclists.

Usually, the workshops are offered in March and May. However, Julie Bond, a senior research associate with CUTR, said the workshop was pushed up in light of the recent increase in bicyclist accidents.

Bond, manager of Tampa BayCycle, was involved in organizing the event.

“This is designed to be a skill course that teaches cyclists how to ride safely,” she said. “With (the recent fatalities) going on, this was a perfect time to offer more safety courses. As a cyclist, you think about that even more when people that you work with or go to school with are being killed.”

Michael Bair, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, attended the Nov. 17 workshop after having safety concerns following the bicyclist accidents.

“I’d like to not die,” he said. “That’s a pretty good motivator. Anything that will lower the risk will be a worthy investment.”

Bair, who rides his bicycle on campus daily, said, the course taught him a few new things, and he believes others can benefit from attending one in the future.

“I expect that the safety course will be very informative,” said Donald Hayward, a senior majoring in mathematics and the secretary of the Bicycle Club at USF who plans to attend the workshop. “I have been bicycling as a means of transportation for nearly five years now, so I consider myself an experienced cyclist. However, it’s always good to see different perspectives on things, especially when the safe option isn’t the obvious one.”

The course features an hour of instruction by Sharon Monahan, a League of American Bicycles (LAB) Certified Master Instructor, and joining her on a 30-minute ride on campus to apply the skills of safe riding.

Monahan hopes to raise awareness of cyclists about the perils of unsafe riding.

“On campus, you have a variety of different traffics – cars, cyclists and pedestrians,” she said. “It can be more hazardous. (We want to) try to teach people to be visible and predictable.”

A 2009 study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Administration listed Florida as the most dangerous state to ride a bicycle, with 119 fatalities in 2007.

Monahan said she believes that through proper understanding of laws, a safer environment can be achieved. She said riding against the flow of traffic, without a helmet, on sidewalks and at night causes many accidents and deaths.

According to University Police, which has released several bulletins since July regarding cyclist and pedestrian safety, more than 60 percent of all cycling accidents take place when it is dark outside.

Bond, who rides to campus three to four times per week from her home in Temple Terrace, urges all cyclists to use front and back light reflectors.

Jessica Brenner, president of the Bicycle Club at USF, said she helped organize the workshop.

“I think we’re alright (as a campus), but finally it’s in the hands of the bicyclist,” said Brenner, a senior majoring in chemistry and psychology. “Bicycle behavior dictates how drivers will behave.”

However, Bair said he thinks the campus has much room for improvement in regards to bicycle safety.

“For someone who lives off campus, it’s a nightmare,” he said. “You have to cross four lanes of traffic, and no one drives at the speed limit. (When it comes to) the bicycle lanes on some roads, everyone parks there.”

Monahan said parking in bicycle lanes near residence halls peaks at the end of semesters, when students tend to be loading their cars to leave. This increases hazards for cyclists.

Though she said she has not personally experienced difficulty riding on campus, Monahan said that students riding on Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard face added peril.

Recent efforts to spread safety awareness have been welcomed on campus.

“The biggest thing is to look for bicyclists. If you don’t ride a bike or motorcycle, it’s not the first thing on your mind,” said Bair, who rides both transportation options. “The more that (non-cyclists) see bikes and the more we spread the message, the better off we’ll be.”