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Lambs to the Slaughter

June 22, 2012

“Crosswalks in the Baymeadows area only give pedestrians the walk light for about three seconds. In that time, it’s impossible to get more than four feet from the curb.” (Image by Sharon Bensing, Photo Editor, Ana Kamiar, MFA)

Image taken from Sharon Bensing’s Photo Essay: “Pedestrian Unfriendly”, found on the Metro Jax website:

My perspective has changed.

It’s no secret to some these days, that my feelings of frustration, disappointment, and complete exasperation with this city have grown to an overwhelming degree.

This coalition has been around for almost a year now, largely made up of cyclists who are relatively new to the Jacksonville advocacy scene. Within this period of time, the handful of our true volunteers who are active in creating change: have attended all of the city’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meetings; have helped with the proposal of what are now the new sharrows on Riverside Avenue; have been involved with various bike-riding events, both as promoters and volunteers; have helped raise awareness to the public about this city’s dangerous reputation on a variety of media formats by being featured guests on radio, television, online, and newspaper; have made the dream of our Cycling Awareness Mayor Bike event a reality; have created a unique independent short film about cycling; have attempted to raise awareness about cyclist fatalities; and are determined to continue to regularly ride our bikes on these despicably mean streets – streets that happen to be considered the third most dangerous in the entire nation.

Yet, within a week’s time, which happened to fall within Jacksonville’s Bike Month in May (of all months!), three of Jacksonville’s bike riding citizens were struck and killed by motorists – 3 out of the 53 cyclists that have, so far, been struck and killed by Duval motorists within a year’s time.

I assessed all three cases carefully, considering the essence of the situation, as well as the commentary proceeding each news story.

Bicyclist Fatality Case #1

“Eddie Crawford was bicycling to work, trying to turn his life around, early Wednesday when he became the 53rd person killed in a Jacksonville traffic accident this year.”… ” Crawford used a bike to get to work and had received safety training, lights, a helmet, and reflective safety vest.”

Instead of making it to work, he was struck from behind and killed by a negligent motorist.

Bicyclist Fatality Case #2

“Police said Jose Jimenes was riding his bike westbound across Sutton Lakes Boulevard in the crosswalk on the south side of Atlantic when the bus turned left onto Sutton Lakes and struck Jimenes with its front left corner.”… ” Police said this was the third bicyclist killed in Jacksonville this year, and the 54th fatal traffic crash of 2012. At this time last year, there were 40 traffic fatalities in Duval County.”

I have drawn diagrams of how this scenario likely played out. I have concluded that whether the cyclist was westbound or eastbound, he must have been seen by the bus driver. The bus driver did not bother to use any amount of sense in her brain regarding what would clearly be a situation where one should assume that the bike rider you see in your sights will most likely intersect with the direction of your own vehicle, thus making it a situation where you yield to the cyclist.

Whether or not it was the bus driver’s right-of-way is not even anywhere remotely near the point. If you see that your path may cross with a bike rider, assume he doesn’t know it’s your right-of-way and use your brakes. USE YOUR BRAKES. USE! YOUR! BRAKES!!! Don’t continue to press on the gas simply because it’s your right-of-way. The cyclist may not be aware of that, especially if they’re on a sidewalk, as was the case with this unfortunate situation.

There was plenty of ignorant commentary against the cyclist on this article.

Bicyclist Fatality Case #3

“As the bicyclist was crossing the road, Bingham said, a red or maroon 1992 – 1998 BMW being driven by a white female was traveling northbound struck the bicyclist.  Bingham said the BMW was traveling at approximately 60 miles per hour.  The posted speed limit at that intersection is 35 miles per hour.”

“The driver did not stop and left the scene of the crash.”

This driver was going 60 in a 35 mph zone on a street that is notorious for pedestrians and cyclists crawling all over the place, day and night. The motorist killed him and fled the scene. Yet still, there was plenty of ignorant commentary against the cyclist on this article as well.

So what are we dealing with here?

Just how big is this “Goliath” of a Culture compared to the “David” that is the Jacksonville Cyclist Advocate? Clearly one stubbornly ignorant monolith of a monster.

I think it’s reasonable to theorize that Jacksonville is largely made up of Florida natives who aren’t used to the cycling culture. The top four most dangerous cities in the nation are all located in Florida, indicating it is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous state in the union for cyclists. Then you’ve got a large population of snowbirds who’ve decided to settle here in what they think is paradise, seeking year-round beach-induced good times with not a skyscraper in sight. They don’t care about the growth of our urban core and downtown. These northerners wanted to get away from city life!

We are dealing with a Strip Mall Suburban mentality on the largest scale in the nation. Time and again I hear conversations about where to go to eat and shop – it’s all about the Towncenter with its corporate mediocre restaurants, and raves about mediocre, faux-culture food. You want good Thai, Mediterranean, or Cuban food, venture beyond the corporate and predictable and frequent some real dining establishments. We have people touting all day long about their love for this ridiculously laid out, ugly, Towncenter thing, while making sure to relentlessly hate on our downtown – “There’s nowhere to park! There’s nothing to do! It’s dangerous! It’s so lame!” – all of those sentiments grossly untrue  (yea, like the Towncenter has great parking and easygoing traffic) and coming only from those who have no adventure in their souls. Only a boring person would insist that our downtown and surrounding environs are boring.

Am I trying to make people feel ashamed? Yes. I am. Frankly, it’s offensive to me every time suburbans tell me their nasty opinions about our historic and beautiful downtown, all while residing in, and fully supporting, areas where all the trees have been mowed down and replaced with parking lots, poorly structured cookie-cutter homes, and strip malls with zero architectural integrity as far as the eye can see. Those who choose to speak poorly of our downtown are the very reason it struggles to make something of itself in the first place. To all the haters out there – Thanks for nothing. Thanks for the absolute nothing that you bring to the cultural table.

We’re dealing with past administrations who never cared about improving our dangerous national reputation, incorporating cycling infrastructure, reviving downtown, or preventing this rampant-running urban sprawl. I don’t know what this current administration is going to do about making this a walkable and bikable city just yet, but so far, I’ve noticed our Bike/Ped Coordinator position is still not being taken seriously, as it is still just a part time position with no additional staff for back up help.

We’re also dealing with the fact that our mobility fees, the fees that fund bike and ped infrastructure here in Jacksonville, have been yanked out from underneath our noses as what they call an emergency act of pulling funds from one area and placing it somewhere else. The fact it was treated as a so-called emergency meant the public had literally no time to react. NO SAY in the matter, which is normally the procedure – you call a hearing and the public is allowed to voice their opinions there. They then measure the turnout of concern and if the majority wants to save the program, they are more likely to save it than to just kill it, like they did with our mobility fees.

And why, exactly, is the Chairman of the BPAC asking my 1-year old grassroots organization what we’re supposed to do to change this city? Isn’t that a little backwards? Shouldn’t BPAC know what to do and then inform us on how we can help? I’m admittedly overwhelmed with befuddlement and helplessness whenever I’m presented with the question of what to do from our BPAC members. The Jacksonville Bicycle Coalition is here to act as liaisons between BPAC and other city officials, and the cycling community, as well as help strengthen the cycling community through various means of guerrilla style advocating. We’re here to help BPAC. Not to figure out all the answers and do work that we’re not equip to handle. The city isn’t paying the JBC to stay on top of all new road construction to make sure they incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities according to the city’s guidelines. We have no authority in that area. We don’t work for the city or the state. Whomever is supposed to be on top of new road construction and new regulations and threats to our funding is a mystery to me, but I’ll tell you this, it isn’t supposed to be the JBC. Excuse my language, but WTF?

So, because our Bike/Ped Coordinator has zero authority in overseeing new road projects – BAM! – we’ve got new roads winding through neighborhoods with no bike or pedestrian facilities. The new San Marco Blvd, ya know, that main artery flowing right through the heart of a popular biking and walking neighborhood? Yea that one. Yea… no bike lanes… no sharrows… not even one measly little “Bikes May Use Full Lane” sign or “Share the Road with Bikes” sign. Nothing. That’s brilliant, Jacksonville. Really. Hats off to you.

Link to news clip:

Click on link above to view news clip

Pretty embarrassing, isn’t it? I have a fair amount of national travel under my belt. I cannot help but take it personally, the way we’ve been treated here, not only by the typical Duval driver, but from past administration’s complete disregard for one of the more essential elements needed in the creation of a respectable metropolis – cycling.

And just look at our urban core (diagram below) compared to the rest of its 874.3 square miles and population of 1,345,596 people. How many people from that number do you think live in the urban core and care about it? I mean just look at it. It’s in this perfect and beautiful location, but the resemblance of its shape much like that of a weak little, shriveled up old heart. Poor little thing. So much potential. *sigh

I’ve come to the crossroads of decision-making.

Regretfully, I must admit my efforts to get people to ride bikes in this city seems to be attached with an unimaginably hefty price – higher rates of fatalities. As Harley puts it, it is as if we were sending lambs to the slaughter. We’ve got the Strip Mall Suburbans with their texting-while-driving habits, apathy about urban core growth, and ignorance to the rules of the road to contend with. We’ve got more than enough people who enjoy making horrifically insensitive remarks about dead cyclists after each tragic news story. We’ve got a whole slew of administrations who, somehow, have managed to ignore the fact that if you want a thriving downtown area, you have to make it walkable and bikeable. We’ve got only a part time Bike/Ped Coordinator and a BPAC that’s asking us novice non-professionals what to do. And we’re dealing with sickeningly prejudiced rednecks who, in all actuality, hate cyclists.

I’ve visited other cities, gathering my thoughts about my positive experiences there, with motorists who actually stop for pedestrians, motorists who are actually patient with bicyclists, motorists who know what the 3-foot law is, for crying out loud.

I’ve read articles about other cities who were once at the bottom of the list for being bike-friendly and their mayors took it seriously, hiring a full time Bike/Ped Coordinator and placing them in a respectable position of authority on new road projects and regulations.

So why, exactly, should I be telling people to ride bikes in Jacksonville?

Anyone out there have any hope-filled pep talks for this weary cyclist advocate?

Anyone have any advice on how to change an entire culture?


6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2012 1:36 PM

    If the answers were simple, advocacy wouldn’t be necessary.

    This city has a leadership (at every level) that has been against public transit of every kind for more than half a century.

    Jacksonville USED TO HAVE a streetcar that served downtown and springfield.

    Jacksonville USED TO HAVE a central rail system and functioning terminal in the downtown core.

    Jacksonville USED TO HAVE a booming urban core.

    Jacksonville COULD HAVE HAD an affordable, self-sustaining public transit rail system serving all of downtown, springfield, riverside, murray hill, san marco, the southside, avondale and even the beaches.

    All of these have been bulldozed, paved over, legislated against or simply ignored in favor of wider highways and faster speed limits. Pedestrians and cyclists alike have been victim to a city wide genocide for decades. It’s not going to end until the leadership steps up. That won’t happen until WE are the leadership.

  2. Troy Sharpe permalink
    June 27, 2012 6:07 PM

    there are people out there every day doing evil. if we don’t get out there every day to try and do even just a little bit of good, our children will be at a loss.

  3. L.P. Hovercraft permalink
    June 28, 2012 7:44 PM

    Great site and great post. I’ve felt disgust at our city, citizens, and leaders you’ve described many times. How many more bicyclists and pedestrians need to be killed before we freaking change doing business as usual in Jax? Hell, I’ve been yelled at to get out of the road and almost gotten run over several times in Riverside, which is arguably the most bike friendly part of town.

    Just read on MetroJacksonville that the new BRT bus lanes planned for downtown will not have bike lanes. There’s not much time left since construction is scheduled to begin in February 2013, but I just emailed the Mayor, all city council members, and the only 2 JTA reps I could find listed on the contacts page of the JTA website and I encourage everyone interested to do the same. The sidewalks are supposed to be widened to between around 7.5-14′ so all they really need to do is to shave off a couple feet on each sidewalk to also include 4′ bike lanes in this project. It’s kind of pathetic that bike lanes weren’t included in this downtown plan to begin with, but we the people really need to make our voice heard that these kind of auto-only road designs are no longer sacrosanct and hold the powers-that-be feet to the fire on this and demand complete streets when millions of dollars of tax payer money is spent for roads to be built or repaired.

    Never surrender!

    • June 28, 2012 7:58 PM

      Really? Really? They’re NOT including bike lanes within the bus lane construction DOWNTOWN? Excuse my language, but what the fuck is wrong with this city?

      L.P., I would contact Chris LeDew of FDOT about that particular piece of construction and ask him what’s going on with that:

      • L.P. Hovercraft permalink
        June 29, 2012 12:09 AM

        Thanks for the FDOT tip–I sent him an email too.

        Don’t let the bastards get you down–keep fighting the good fight!

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