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Room to ride: Cycling brings controversy to Longboat Key

Cyclists love Longboat, but Gulf of Mexico Drive’s bike lane is often a sore spot with the two-wheel enthusiasts.

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  • | 11:20 a.m. September 27, 2017
  • Longboat Key
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Longboat Key might be known as a beach destination, but for some, its allure is something more pedestrian: its main road.

From tourists leisurely riding on the sidewalk to seasoned cyclists zipping along Gulf of Mexico Drive, bicycling on Longboat is an issue that often pits drivers against cyclists.

In February, a man was severely injured when his bicycle was hit by a vehicle on Gulf of Mexico Drive. In April, another bicyclist was involved in a crash when his bike was allegedly struck by a Dodge pickup truck on GMD.

Between June 30, 2016 and July 1, 2017, the Longboat Key Fire Department responded to 18 bicycle crashes and transported 10 victims to hospitals. Of those, 11 were falls off the bike and seven were considered motor vehicle accidents.

Considering this number, Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming said the island is a remarkably safe place to ride a bike. However, he warns cyclists to remember that they must adhere to the same traffic laws that drivers do. That includes stopping at stop signs and red lights, yielding at yield signs and obeying pedestrian crosswalks.

“Just like when you’re taught driving a vehicle, make sure you drive defensively,” Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said. “Always anticipate that something could happen.”

Dezzi said drivers need to leave three feet between their car and a bicyclist, and if riding at night or early morning, bikers should use  lights or  reflectors.

However, despite these regulations, some bicyclists say drivers don’t understand or acknowledge them.

“The bicycles have a right to be on the road and stay to the right and drivers have to find a safe opportunity to go around and give them three feet,” said resident cyclist Larry English.

English lives on Longboat from October to May. During those months, he bikes at least twice a week. He said sometimes people are hostile toward bikers, and though he rides on Legacy Trail sometimes, he likes staying on Longboat.

“I live on Longboat,” English said. “I don’t want to have to put my bike on a rack and drive 40 minutes to get to a safe place to ride.”

Lenny Landau cycles almost every day. He generally feels safe riding his bike down GMD, but that isn’t to say he hasn’t had drivers cut him off. Landau said he thinks it’s five times safer to ride in the street than it is on the sidewalk. His reasoning is that people don’t check the sidewalk when driving.

A conceptual plan for Gulf of Mexico Drive's future includes an upgraded bicycle lane.
A conceptual plan for Gulf of Mexico Drive's future includes an upgraded bicycle lane.

“If they’re coming south on GMD, and they’re going to turn left on the street or a driveway, they look at the car coming toward them,” he said. “They don’t look at the sidewalk and then they turn.”

Longboat Key’s sidewalks are larger, and Landau said they were made wider so cyclists and walkers could use them. But even in the bike lane, Ronald Gricius has found obstacles in the form of trucks and equipment.

“Where’s the biker going to go if … if the bike lane is blocked, we have to go into traffic,” he said.

And despite the wider sidewalks, cyclists find problem sharing space with walks.

“We don’t want to ride on the sidewalk,” English said. “We want to ride in the bicycle lane. We have a right to do that, and people don’t know we have that right. People don’t know they have to give us three feet, and people don’t know if it’s safe to pass us, pass us.”

Regardless, drivers and cyclists have to share the road. 

Cumming said common courtesy on both sides will go a long way in avoiding crashes.

At the end of the day, town officials recognize that there is room for improvement. 

Town Commission member  Jim Brown said plans are being discussed to make Gulf of Mexico Drive a better road for all. 

“I recognize that our bike lanes are probably substandard in many places, and that’s something that we’d like to fix, but Longboat Key doesn’t own the road, and it’s been discussed and there are plans underway,” Brown said.


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