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East County Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2022 5 months ago

Roadside debris poses challenge to Lakewood Ranch cyclists

Some local cyclists say that construction debris has left bike lanes unsafe in the Lakewood Ranch area.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

Riding along about 20 mph on his bicycle, Rich Weinstock felt a jolt and then was helpless as his body plunged toward Lorraine Road.

The force of the June 2021 crash near Mainsail Lane shattered his helmet and left him with road rash across the right side of his body, and destroyed his $11,000 bicycle.

Weinstock eventually learned he had hit construction-related road debris.

Although he was seriously hurt, Weinstock's love of cycling overcame the knowledge that the constant construction in the Lakewood Ranch area has created what he considers a dangerous situation for cyclists on the roads.

“It’s a lifestyle,” said Weinstock, who is on the board of directors of the Village Idiots Cycling Club. “It's the way we socialize, it's the way we stay healthy, it's the way we compete with each other.”

He and his fiancee, Andrea Sacchetti, who came to the area in early 2020 because of its biking opportunities, both became interested in moving to Lakewood Ranch while living in New Jersey and began following the Facebook page for the Village Idiots Cycling Club.

"We liked the club, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s buy a house here.' And we did," he said.

It wasn't long after Weinstock's crash that another club member had an accident as well. Crossing Creek's Rick Hardesty went down on Bourneside Boulevard in Lakewood Ranch just north of State Road 70.

“I just heard ‘Boom!' said Weinstock, who was riding with Hardesty. "It was such a hard hit.”

Hardesty said he hit a chunk of aggregate rock, and the impact snapped his handlebar.

“Half his handlebar separated from the bike," Weinstock said. "I was able to see him with only air under him, and his hand going out the other way (to break his fall).”

Hardesty broke his clavicle and three ribs, while also receiving road rash. After the accident, he said his wife doesn't want him to ride with the club anymore.

Weinstock said he has seen more road debris from the constant construction.

“We're not talking about sticks, we're not talking about stones,” he said. “We're talking about construction material, landscape, rocks, aggregate.”

The club’s routes cover major roads in Lakewood Ranch and include University Parkway, Lorraine Road, Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, and The Master’s Avenue.

Dawn Zielinski is president of the Village Idiots Cycling Club, and Rich Weinstock belongs to its board of directors.

Bill Spitler, Florida chapter coordinator for the First Responders Cycling Club, said his club encounters similar debris on a constant basis in the Lakewood Ranch area.

Two weeks after her incident on The Masters Avenue, Andrea Sacchetti still had her injuries bandaged.

"There's debris everywhere in the bike lanes, whether you're in Sarasota or Manatee County," he said, "With all of the growth, trucks are losing material from their loads, and 2-by-4 pieces of concrete are (everywhere)."

While Spitler said he has seen several flat tires lately from road debris, he witnessed a serious crash six months ago when a rider fell due to a palm frond getting stuck in the cycle's tire. The rider suffered eight broken ribs and a concussion.

Village Idiots members continue to have problems on the roadway. On April 6, when Sacchetti was riding westbound between Players Drive and Ravelston Boulevard in Lakewood Ranch, she hit debris in the roadway.

“I remember seeing an object flying toward me,” Sacchetti said. “The rider in front of me hit it with his tire, probably on the edge, then it flew into my tire and knocked my bike down instantly. I was going like 20 miles an hour, so I hit hard. I was down in an instant before I could even react.”

She said the object turned out to be a piece of lumber.

Sacchetti received a huge bruise on her hip, as well as deep lacerations to her knee and elbow. She said another rider approaching behind her, Alex Korotkevich, separated his AC joint.

Club President Dawn Zielinski, a resident of Greyhawk Landing, said the previous week, she had picked up a large piece of metal on Lorraine Road. In this area she found corner bead (used in drywall construction) multiple times in the past, and on another occasion, an entire carton of long nails.

“Nobody hit them, fortunately,” she said. "In the bike lane, we can see it and go around it.”

She said after contacting the county, the Department of Public Works collected the items with a giant magnet. Zielinski complimented the county’s willingness to take action.

“Thank goodness Manatee County is really awesome,” she said. “When you let them know something is there, they take care of it right away. So, kudos to our county that when they know about something, they do it quickly.

Nonetheless, Zielinski still hopes for a solution to the debris being present in the first place.

“Corner beading doesn't just get on the street and into the bike lane by itself,” she said. “Obviously, it got there in some way.”

Zielinski said there are ways cyclists can prevent crashes due to hit material in the roadway. She said while she has crashed in the past, her experience has taught her valuable lessons.

Rich Weinstock said that on the morning of April 20, he saw this series of boards in the bike lane on the far south length of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard near the roundabouts. Courtesy photo.

As president of the club, Zielinski helps club members look out for each other,  calling out objects in the roadway. She will often stop her group to remove objects for the 50 or 70 people in the groups behind her.

She said some cyclists have decided the roads are too dangerous, and have given up on biking. She said for the club members, who ride at speeds of about 20 miles an hour, the road is the only realistic option for a place to ride, and that it is not as safe to ride on sidewalks or trails meant for pedestrian traffic.

Tom Leonhardt of the Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club, which rides at a slower pace in general than the Village Idiots, said rider awareness could be a solution to many of the problems.

“You get stones, and sticks, and gravel out there,” he said. “And it's probably more prevalent in the construction zones than it is in others. But it's one thing we emphasize on all of our rides, and we have 30-plus rides a week: if you see something, you holler out, so people don't inadvertently hit it and go down.”

“It's not a crisis type thing,” he said, “Every three or four weeks, somebody goes down and gets bumps and bruises. Once in a while they’ll break something. You just have to pay attention. It's just the way it is when you're bicycling.”

Spitler, however, said he wishes the roadways would be cleaned more often.

"In the city of Sarasota or downtown Bradenton, I'm sure they use the street sweeper," he said. "But you don't see a street sweeper out on the roads outside of those areas. The bike lanes just don't get swept like they should."

Chad Butzow, the director of Public Works for Manatee County, said there is no county program specifically for the systematic maintenance of bike lanes. Instead, he said, when it comes to roads, the county looks first and foremost at vehicle safety.

However, he said the department is aware of some cyclists' issues, and that it deploys staff to investigate all reports from citizens and remove whatever debris is found.

He said 3-1-1 calls should be placed to report objects large enough to be easily visible from a vehicle. However, he stressed cyclists, in addition to motorists, should make these calls, as in many cases, due to their vantage point, motorists can still overlook objects of this nature.

After striking a chunk of aggregate rock on Bourneside Boulevard, Rick Hardesty broke his clavicle and three ribs.

Butzow said the county aims to sweep major curbed roads at a rate faster than once a month, but that it does not sweep uncurbed roads. Sweepers, which use brooms to push against curbs to collect the material, can damage grass when a curb is not present.

Bill Logan, information outreach manager for Manatee County Government, said the option of an enhancement to the current sweeping program to include uncurbed roads with paved shoulders is being reviewed.

Even with the recent incidents taken into account, many members of the Village Idiots Cycling Club are determined to keep peddling forward. Zielinski said one reason she hopes a solution can be found is the issue does not concern only cyclists, but motorists as well.

“On my way to the ride last night in my car, I ran over a two-by-four in the middle of Lakewood Ranch,” she said. “It’s not just affecting cyclists, except we are the ones getting injured. You're not going to hurt yourself in a car necessarily, but you could get tire damage and need to get your tires replaced. It affects everybody that drives in the community.”

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