By Rich Pollack
It is a war of words that has been going on for decades along State Road A1A as motorists and bicyclists struggle to co-exist on the narrow two-lane stretch of blacktop.
Bicyclists complain that motorists don’t give them enough room and ignore the law that requires cars to be at least three feet away when passing a bike.
Motorists pack town halls and call hotlines to complain about packs of bicyclists taking over the roadways and making it impossible to get by.
Now, after more than a year and a half of brainstorming and studying the problem, a task force comprised of law enforcement officers and traffic safety advocates is about to launch an educational campaign that could result in drivers of vehicles with two or four wheels being pulled over.
Within the next month or two, those driving cars or riding bicycles along A1A can expect to encounter groups of police officers from several agencies — some on motorcycles, some even on bicycles — who will be looking for people who aren’t following the laws designed to make roads safe for everyone — whether they’re walking, pedaling or driving.
“The majority of bicyclists and motorists follow the rules of the road,” says Highland Beach Police Chief Craig Hartmann. “What we want to do is educate that small percentage who don’t or who may not be aware of the rules.”
The safety initiative, which could include portable electronic signs along A1A touting the need to respect everyone’s right to the road, is being coordinated by the South Florida Safe Roads Task Force, which has been meeting for several months with the goal of reducing accidents and injuries.
“The task force’s mission is to create an understanding and acceptance of the need to allow everyone to co-exist safely,” says Tara Kirschner, executive director of the Dori Slosberg Foundation, which works to make Florida roadways safer. “Through education, we hope to change the attitudes of motorists towards cyclists and cyclists toward motorists.”
Along with the law enforcement-driven initiative, the task force is looking into other ways to make people using roads like A1A more aware of rules and the need to follow them for their own safety and for the safety of others.
“Our whole aim is voluntary compliance from pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists,” says Highland Beach police Lt. Eric Lundberg, who helped get the task force started.
Lundberg says that combining the efforts of law enforcement agencies will help send a message that all are united in the educational effort. Working together, he and others say, will also provide more consistent enforcement of laws.
“We need to have a uniform presence,” says Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi.
While the task force will focus on all violations, two priorities will be enforcement of laws that require bicycle riders to be no more than two abreast and that require motorists to give bicycles three feet of clearance.
Yannuzzi, a serious bicyclist who sometimes goes for a ride down A1A on his lunch hour, says one major concern is with bicycle packs of 50 to 60 riders who sometimes take over a whole lane and have been known to even move into the opposite lane.
“There are some rogue groups that just take over the road,” he said. “It’s no longer just a ride for them, it’s a race.”
In Boca Raton, where police officers do intermittent enforcement designed to improve safety for bicyclists and motorists, motorcycle officer Ross Bethard says the biggest complaint from motorists is about pack riding.
But he says most of the pack riders are following the law and those that don’t are reminded when he pulls up next to them.
“As soon as they see me, they know what they have to do,” he said.
One of the problems for both bicyclists and motorists, according to Jim Smith, chairman and co-founder of SAFE (Safety As Floridians Envision), is the sheer volume on A1A.
“There’s so many bicycles and so many cars in a confined area,” he said.
Like those in law enforcement, Smith sees education and understanding as the solution to resolving conflicts between motorists and bicyclists.
“This isn’t a No. 1 safety issue,” he said. “It’s a No. 1 getting-along-with-one-another issue.”
Florida has several laws designed to improve the safety of bicyclists.
• Bicycles must follow all traffic signals and control devices, including traffic lights, stop signs and laws governing pedestrian crosswalks.
• Bicyclists may not ride more than two abreast if traveling at less than the normal traffic speed.
• Bicycles traveling at less-than-normal speed must ride in bicycle lanes or as far right as practical.
• When being used at night, bicycles must be equipped with a white lamp on front and red reflectors and lights on rear. Those lights may flash.
• Use of headsets, headphones or other listening devices, other than a device with a cell phone that is in only one ear, is prohibited when bicycling on Florida roadways.
• Bicyclist must maintain control of the bicycle and proceed in a safe and prudent manner at all times.
• Under Florida law, a motorist overtaking a bicycle must pass the bicycle at a distance of not less than three feet.
• When overtaking a bicyclist, motorists can cross the double yellow line or solid line, as long as the opposite lane is free of oncoming traffic for a significant distance.
SOURCE: Highland Beach Police Department