All too often in Florida, bicycles and automobiles don't get along. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in April pegged the Sunshine State as the leader in "pedacyclist" fatalities: 119 deaths, more than California (109) and New York (51).
Mighk Wilson doesn't think those damning statistics tell the real story. Wilson, a bicycle and pedestrian planner at MetroPlan Orlando, has also been an avid bicyclist in this city for decades.
"I think things have gotten better," he says. "We are noticing in the trends some interesting things. The overall bike injury rate has dropped locally — a big portion of that is because, unfortunately, kids aren't biking. But it is also dropping in adults, and adult cycling is going up. We just don't know how much."
MetroPlan is working on a database of bicycle and pedestrian accidents in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. The Orlando Police Department, meanwhile, doesn't track specifically how many bicycle accidents happen within city limits. Given the lack of quantitative data, we opted for a more qualitative inquiry: At the Orlando Critical Mass ride on May 29, we spoke with some cyclists (and later some of their friends) about their experiences on Central Florida's roads. These are their stories, edited only for space and clarity.
Keyon Davoodian, 19, Oviedo
I was biking on the sidewalk on University Boulevard about to cross a road where cars leave a shopping plaza on University and Dean Road. From this point on, I'm going to tell the story from the perspective of the driver, as it is much funnier this way. The girl had a rough night (she told me all this after she hit me). She decided to "chill out," so she went to a local smoking accessories store and purchased a water pipe. She was very excited about her purchase, so she called a friend of hers while she was driving out of the plaza, when all of a sudden thump. She immediately looks out her windshield and cannot see what it is she hit (she wasn't paying attention to the road). A boy stands up (me), his arm covered in blood, and walks up to driver's window holding what used to be a front wheel. I only charged her for the bike damage and pleaded with her to pay more attention to the road. Lucky for me, my bike took most of the force.
Seiji Schoppert, 24, Orlando
A few years ago my car was out of commission, which forced me to use my bike to get to everywhere. While going grocery shopping I was passing an entrance to an AutoZone, when out of nowhere an SUV came darting toward me from across the street. I saw that the SUV was stopped on the other side, but I did not expect him to floor the gas pedal. Because of that he came toward me at much greater speed than necessary. He saw me at literally the last second and slammed on his brakes. My thought at the time: OMG, I'm going to be crushed by the vehicle I hate the most. I of course tried to swerve away as much as possible. The car hit my back wheel, and I got a little wobbly but I recovered. I didn't bother stopping, as I didn't see the point.
Hannah Miller, 27, Orlando
I was hit-and-run by a car on my way to fill in on drums for my friend's band at the Social in February. It was about 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, and I was halfway downtown on Robinson Street, so close to Lake Eola that I could smell the dough baking at Panera Bread, mixing with the orange blossoms of the tidy yards to my right. I was riding my vintage Fuji slowly … then some jerk smashed into me from behind. My bike did a somersault over my shoulders as my hands slammed into the curb. Shiny penny smell and stinging palms. I couldn't move my leg. Ringing sounds. Hot frightened tears. And my bike — bent at all the wrong angles and not breathing. One dark car swiftly disappearing over the horizon. The driver just kept driving. A stranger comes running to my side, carrying a small dog. Talks me through the shock. I call my friend and his mom for a pickup; make it to the Social in time for soundcheck, and play the drums for 45 minutes with bloody hands and a fractured leg. Rock & roll.
Aric Parker, 21, Orlando
I was hit in late 2008 on the corner of Lokanotosa and Alafaya Trail in front of a Walgreens. I was riding on the sidewalk and a man in a company vehicle was waiting to merge onto Alafaya, just in front of the intersection. Not looking towards me — going against traffic on the sidewalk — he attempts to merge onto Alafaya just as I was planning on maneuvering around him. I hit the side of his rear passenger door, and he pulled into the Walgreens parking lot and apologized. We introduced ourselves, and then the man gave me a ride to campus so I was able to make it to class. Most of the damage was done to the front wheel of my bike, and it needed replacing. No police were involved.
Ted Isla, 23, Winter Park (now Chicago)
When I was a student at Full Sail University, I was riding my bike on Semoran Boulevard past Aloma Avenue, and just past Steak 'n Shake is where I was hit. Something notorious about Florida drivers is that they don't look both ways before making a turn. Also, they'll inch and cheat a bit to get a head start, but then hesitate and end up in the middle of the intersection. Coincidentally, the driver that hit me was a student at Full Sail, and he was pulling out of his complex's driveway. He was speeding and didn't bother to stop at the stop sign. He clocked me on my bike, launching me into the middle of Semoran. The driver knew he was at fault and I threw my bike in his trunk and made him drive me to class. Afterward, I took pictures of his car and then filed a police report. I offered not to press charges if he reimbursed me for all the damages. In the end, he agreed.
Chris Scott, 19, Orlando
I have had several experiences with dangerous motorists over the last few years. Luckily, I have only been struck by a car once. That was just a glancing blow by a side-view mirror of a motorist who tried to squeeze by me on a narrow road. The mirror struck me in the back and was quite painful. The motorist failed to even stop and sped off.
Ryan Hutchinson, 21, DeLand
I once was hit on my way to work. I was heading north in the bike lane (with backed-up traffic to my left) when a motorist, heading south, made a left turn through a gap in the traffic and hit me. I rolled up on the hood but was OK. My bike was pretty much totaled, however, due to a bent frame and fork. The driver was actually rather helpful and nice and reported the incident to his insurance company, who compensated me pretty well (I was able to buy a new frameset). In actuality I got off really lucky — having the driver stick around, not being hurt and having my bike replaced. This, of course, contrasts with some friends of mine who've been hit multiple times when the driver just speeds off. Worse and more common than being hit (at least in my experience) is the array of honks, comments and aggressive driving of people who just don't have the time to respect cyclists' equal right to the road.
People sometimes politely suggest: "Hey asshole, the sidewalk's over there!" when actually it is outright illegal to ride on the sidewalk.
Jen Whalen, 24, Orlando
It was August 2006, when my BFF Rachel and I were struck by a car from behind while riding our bikes home on Rosalind Street. When the car hit us, Rachel ate the pavement. Her beautiful face grated on the street, turning it into something that resembled chewed-up, bloody steak. I shattered the windshield with my body, then flew through the air and landed as a pile of crushed bones on the other side of the road. A young drunk woman ran from the car and rushed towards us, screaming frantically. Then cops. Then ambulances. … I returned from the hospital days later with a broken clavicle, a fractured hip, five broken ribs, a hole in my lung and a terrorizing memory that would haunt me forever.
Months later Rachel and I saw the young woman that hit us in a music store. Within seconds she disappeared. She still hasn't said sorry. If she reads this I hope she firstname.lastname@example.org