US-19 is Florida's Deadliest Road
A deep dive into the dangerous road, e-scooter expansion across Florida, and shared micromobility roaring back after the pandemic
Florida’s most dangerously designed road?
Less than a month after Vox ran an excellent article titled “The deadliest road in America,” there was another tragic killing on that road. The road in question is US-19, and the stretch of it that the article covered is in Pasco County. The death was of an 11-year-old boy riding a bicycle on a sidewalk just a couple miles south from that stretch in the article. The boy was killed when a driver swerved off the road while driving a pickup truck towing a boat trailer as he was approached slowing traffic.
The boy, Christopher, and his dad were coming home from getting Slurpees together.
I was born and raised in that area, with my parents still at the home I grew up in less than a mile from that spot. I know US-19 very well and I know how dangerous it can be. In high school, I was stopped at a red light when I was rear-ended while driving my dad’s car just a couple hundred feet from that spot. This road is really a highway at 8 lanes across, with speeds going more than 50 miles per hour. And there is nothing but few feet of grass that separate drivers from the sidewalks.
While the Vox article focused on the Pasco County section, there’s not much difference from the north Pinellas County section where I grew up and where Christopher was killed:
Walk along this road, and you might begin to notice the danger. The speed limit is 45 to 55 miles per hour, but the cars are often going much faster. The crosswalks are so few and far between that a simple act — crossing the street to get to a business a few hundred feet away — might mean walking over half a mile to reach the nearest crosswalk. Even with sidewalks set back from the road, it’s clear that US-19 wasn’t built for pedestrians.
Never mind the danger to bicyclists or any other micromobility user on the road itself, if they have the courage to do so. Here’s a short video I took in April, maybe a quarter of a mile from where the deadly crash took place.
It’s not much safer for drivers. Again, from the Vox article:
Locals might not have the statistics at their fingertips, but they know that US-19 is dangerous. In 2020, 13 people traveling US-19 by car in Pasco County were killed in crashes. For residents who rely on it, US-19 is both mundane and maddeningly treacherous. Crashes are so ubiquitous that some talk about an old bumper sticker on cars that read: “Pray for me, I drive on US-19.” Another part of US-19, in neighboring Pinellas County, is sometimes called “death valley.” But the road is pretty much unavoidable for most people trying to move freely through the area, and the alternatives aren’t much better. No one is more endangered on the road than those who use it unprotected by a ton of steel — and there are a lot of them.
The dangers posed on US-19 are like those on many of the roads in Florida. Roads built for cars, multiple lanes wide, long stretches with no crosswalks, wide lanes, little to no protection for bicyclists, inadequate mass transit and even then, terrible bus stops for those waiting, and high speeds even in residential areas.
“US-19 may be worse, but we’ve got a bunch of roads competing for that title,” said Eric Dumbaugh, professor of urban planning at Florida Atlantic University.
I encourage everyone to take the time and read the Vox article by Marin Cogan. It’s well written with some sad stories, good facts, and great photos that show the danger of that road.
H/t to Naqiy Mcmullen for sending the Vox article my way.
School is back, but is FHP stepping back
Sure, the title might seem a little harsh but after talking about how dangerous Florida roads are, it seems appropriate. With school starting back up in Florida, there are more drivers, riders, and walkers out on the road. Sarasota has seen an uptick in crashes over the last couple of weeks and as the Florida Highway Patrol has been conducting its “high visibility campaign” it appears the focus is on bicyclists and pedestrians, as ABC7 in Sarasota reports.
“Unfortunately we have seen an uptick in crashes this week,” said Trooper Kenn Watson with the Florida Highway Patrol.
This as law enforcement has their high visibility campaign well underway in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Law enforcement says they can only do so much, the rest is up to us.
“Please do the right thing, let’s make sure that we are adhering to all of the traffic rules,” said Watson. “And as vulnerable users of the roadway, as a bicyclist or a skateboarder, please make sure that you’re wearing the proper equipment, let’s be safe.”
FHP says situational awareness is the most important thing, especially for motorists. Pedestrians and bicyclists should wear brighter clothing at night and have a flashlight.
As we’ve seen before, it won’t really matter to a speeding or distracted driver what I might be wearing. There is also no “traffic rule” that a pedestrian or bicyclist should wear brighter clothing or walk with a flashlight.
Thankfully Mike Lasche, Executive Director of Florida Walks and Bikes, pointed out the real issue regarding safety and suggests a change in design:
“The area will continue to have these crashes when we don’t engineer correctly” …
Lasche says the one solution that can make a world of difference on roads throughout the Suncoast are painted bike lanes.
“When pedestrians attempt to cross the road, a painted bike lane gives them four feet of safe, space to enter the roadway,” said Lasche. “It also gives the motorists four feet of space while the pedestrian is in the roadway to react, this is what would save the lives of many pedestrians.”
I’d point out though that separated, protected bicycle lanes would afford a greater deal amount of safety than paint on the ground. My video from US-19 gives a good example of that.
More e-scooters flocking to the Sunshine State
Shared micromobility companies Bird and Helbiz are expanding operations throughout Florida as more people move to Florida, and while they might not be related, it certainly is a good development.
As reported by Mass Transit, Helbiz will be expanding to Tampa as the city’s new vendor, replacing existing operators. Helbiz will start with 1,500 scooters, and also offer a three-wheeled seated version as well as a wheelchair attachment to the scooters.
Helbiz will also be doubling its fleet in Miami Lakes and upgrading it with the newest version of its e-bike. Helbiz already provides e-scooters around the downtown area of the City of Miami as the city’s only micromobility vendor.
Bird will be expanding to Bradenton in a new partnership with the city, according to the Bradenton Herald. The initial rollout will have 150 e-scooters, which will eventually rise to 900. Bird will be offering free rides for healthcare workers and emergency personnel, along with a 50% discount to low-income riders, Pell grant recipients, select local nonprofit and community organizations, veterans, and senior citizens.
Shared micromobility rebounding since the start of the pandemic
Just as shared micromobility was expanding and taking off, the Covid pandemic stopped it in its tracks. That might have been a good thing for the industry, as it allowed operators to review what was and wasn’t working and retool. While Covid is still around, the shutdowns and quarantines are subsiding and micromobility use is rising again, and with stronger interest. The North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association (NABSA) released its third annual Shared Micromobility State of the Industry Report for North America, and the numbers look great.
As reported by Smart Cities Dive, the number of trips taken in 2021 exceed those of 2020 by 53% but are still short from levels in 2019, but only by about 18%. At least 128 million trips in total were taken in 2021, with e-scooters accounting for 49% of those trips.
The report suggests from the data that about 37% of shared micromobility trips replaced a car trip, potentially offsetting about 57 million pounds of CO₂ emissions. The numbers also show that e-bikes were being used 36% more than regular pedal bicycles.
As NABSA Executive Director Samantha Herr points out:
In this important time globally, as we face climate, equity, and transportation challenges, shared micromobility is a tool for policymakers and communities to utilize towards creating the transportation networks that serve people, communities, and our planet better. By quantifying and tracking the benefits and impact of shared micromobility, and demonstrating year-over-year success and growth, the Shared Micromobility State of the Industry Report is an important tool in our advocacy work.
Fed money for micromobility chargers?
Last November, President Joe Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which among other things included $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, with a goal of building out 500,000 chargers across the US by 2030.
As part of that, Bloomberg Government reports that transportation groups are submitting comments to the Federal Highway Administration requesting that some of that funding be applied to EV chargers for e-bikes, e-scooters, and even electric wheelchairs.
Some big players in the advocacy game have chimed in, including PeopleForBikes, the League of American Bicyclists, NABSA from the story above, Transportation for American, GreenLatinos, and the Oregon Department of Transportation. As Transportation American wrote:
Equity requires accommodating the vehicles used by those that might not have access to personal automobiles.
The US Department of Transportation hopes to review and approve the plans for formula funding of $5 billion for the states by September 30.
This should be a no-brainer for USDOT. It was a mistake to originally exclude the e-bike tax credit from the law, but with the numbers that that NABSA report is showing, micromobility (shared or otherwise) is a vital method of transportation for millions of Americans.
Going forward, Pensacola wants e-scooter riders to sit while they ride
The City of Pensacola started a one-year pilot program with Bird e-scooters in July 2021 that later was expanded to include Veo in January 2022. The city is now looking to make e-scooters permanent but is turning to the seated version as opposed to the standing.
It looked like the end for Bird, though, as it only offered standing scooters with Veo offering seated, but as the Pensacola News Journal reports Bird does have a seated option that it can offer. They have until August 31 to offer the seated version, with both companies able to negotiate longer contracts by October 31.
According to the News Journal, the city recommended the seated scooter because it saw better compliance to rules and less ‘joyriding’ by users.
Under the new, permanent program users would be required to end their rides in designated parking areas, any shared rides would be cut off by 11 p.m., charge city fees, and fine riders for parking violations.
From across the pond, a look at the dangers pedestrians face from bicyclists vs drivers
This article caught my attention and, while not having to do with Florida or even the US, it certainly is interesting as it relates to micromobility. As we sometimes hear in the States, there is also a call that bicyclists are killing pedestrians in the UK and something must be done. Apparently Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is looking into creating a new “death by dangerous cycling” law that will apply the harsh penalties motorist face to bicyclists if they kill vulnerable road users through lack of care or excessive speed.
The NationalWorld decided to look into how much of a real threat bicyclists have been to pedestrians, and we all could have guessed the result. The report noted that after looking at the numbers, bicyclists in the UK are at an increased risk with fatalities soaring by more than 40% in 2021.
The NationalWorld found that fewer than 4 pedestrians on average were killed by bicyclists from 2013 to 2020. The report found that on average during that time 108 bicyclists were killed on the road, and 415 pedestrians killed on average by motor vehicles.
The report had some great graphics (like the one above) and information that I certainly recommend checking out.
Quote of the Day
We too often think about roadway deaths as if they are normal, part of life in our times—almost as if we were living through a war. They are not normal, not inevitable.
Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation.
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