The 2011 Florida Highway Safety Performance Plan is out. This report has all the details of traffic accidents in the state of Florida broken down by county, city, and various other factors ranging in dates from the years 2005 through 2009. I’ll save you a bit of time from leafing through the 128 pages of government statistics and get to the good stuff.
For cities with a population between 15,000 and 75,000 in Florida, of which there are 97, including Key West. Our own beloved little rock at the end of the world ranks first in the following categories:
Fatalities and injuries involving bicycles….1
Fatalities and injuries involving motorcycles….1
Fatalities and injuries involving pedestrians….1
Fatalities and injuries involving alcohol….1 (big surprise there)
Overall, including other factors like speeding, aggressive driving, older drivers, Key West ranks at number 5 out of 97 similar sized cities in highway accidents with fatalities and injuries. And people call us lazy down here. See what you can accomplish if you try hard enough?
If you have ever been to Key West then it’s not hard to see why we rank so high in these sorts of accidents. The island is only 2 miles wide by 4 miles long. 25,000 people are crammed onto the island along with an average daily tourist population of 10,000…most of whom are lost, distracted, or drunk. With the exception of North and South Roosevelt most of the streets are very narrow and difficult to maneuver on, especially if you don’t know your way around. For the tourists, distractions are plentiful with sightseers gawking at the water, the scenery, and each other. The residents are every bit to blame as they are just trying to get from point A to point B and get frustrated with the slow moving traffic. No where on the island is the speed limit over 35 mph. A special event can stop traffic cold in some places causing people to seek out short cuts on the back streets.
Getting around by vehicle in Key West can be very frustrating. Parking is severely limited and there are four way stop signs and lights at nearly every intersection. Commercial vehicles have it even worse trying to bring goods onto the island. Frequently they have to block streets and bike paths in order to get unloaded or do construction work. You’ll see a lot of this on the side streets…
You can’t blame them, they are doing a necessary job. But the cars and bicycles that have to get around them frequently have unplanned meetings.
As well as the city has done in creating a bicycle infrastructure on the island with paths and bike lanes, much much more is needed. It is extremely easy to get around the island by bike but you have to keep your head on a swivel at all times. Not just intersections but cross streets, alleys, driveways and entrances to businesses are dangerous. Many is the time I have simply pulled over, parked on the curb and let all the traffic clear out before attempting to cross an intersection like this one at US 1 and Roosevelt…
This is basically the entrance to Key West and is just about impossible to cross by foot or on bike.
The two on the bikes made it but it took them awhile.
The bicycle rental industry is huge on the island. I estimated there may be as many as 2000 or more rental bicycles available on the island at any one time. (If anyone has a more accurate figure please add to the comments). Most of these rental bikes are used by the tourists, many of whom may not have ridden a bike in years or decades. Trust me you see them all the time. They come straight off the cruise ships, jump on an unfamiliar two wheeled contraption, and head off into a town where they are armed only with a small map and no sense of direction. They run red lights, go the wrong way on one way streets, and generally do not react well with the motor traffic. The bike rental companies do all they can to keep them safe with brightly colored bicycles, (why do you think I have a bright orange bike?), safety briefings, lights, and helmets. But being tourists, they will do what tourists do.
As for the motorcycle statistics, I suspect they are inflated due to the large numbers of scooters on the island. Like bicycles, scooters are a huge rental cash cow. They are everywhere and admittedly, one of the more economic ways to get around if a bicycle is not within your abilities. They get great gas mileage, can keep up with traffic, and have more parking options. But, they do require some skill to ride. People get on them and buzz through traffic darting in and out of the way. They are hard to see and can come up on you quick. Tourists act like they are on a carnival ride and horse around with them. It’s no surprise how many wind up on the ground or as a dash ornament.
Having owned and rode 17 different Harley’s over 20 years and with over 500,000 miles and three accidents under my ass I can speak with a little authority here. When your skinny ass gets hit by 5000 lbs of steel and plastic you go where the laws of physics and gravity determine you will go. Getting hit by a car hurts like hell and you have absolutely no time to react whatsoever. Don’t even think for a minute you have the ability to outthink a car when it is bearing down on you. You don’t. One second you are joy riding, the next you are on the ground and if you are lucky still conscious enough to wonder how you got there. Getting hit by a car hurts…trust me on this one. And if you are walking, pedaling, or riding a scooter or motorcycle, you are on the losing end of any collision.
The pedestrian traffic is the worst in the tourist areas in Old Town. People are walking up and down the streets gawking at the stores or each other, paying little attention to the traffic or lights. Many will simply cross the streets without looking in either direction, something all our mothers taught us when we were young, and risk getting hit. More than a few times I’ve had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. (The cool thing about a coaster brake is you can easily lock up the rear wheel causing it to skid and scare the hell out of some dumbass who doesn’t bother to look before leaping). Again, head on a swivel at all times in these areas.
And of course we have the booze. I am sure you are all shocked…shocked that people imbibe alcohol on this peaceful island. But yes, it happens every day, and night, and all times in between. People come here to party, get drunk, and then attempt to operate vehicles, scooters, bicycles, or external limbs to get to the next place to drink more. It ain’t going to stop and no matter how much infrastructure you put in, no matter how hard law enforcement cracks down, some idiot will down one rum runner to many and cause an accident. All you can do is try to stay out of the way.
And finally we have the vehicles themselves. Cars, trucks, commercial vehicles, rv’s, big and small. All trying to move up and down streets made for horse and carriage days. I used to dread driving through Key West, even with my little old jeep. I made a point to find the nearest parking lot, pay the fee and walk the rest of the way. But not everyone is the same. Why walk when you can look cool cruising down Duval street in your fancy car or truck. Everyone will move out of the way because you and your car are just so awesome. Keep believing that fantasy if you want. From the sidewalk point of view, you are just another jerk adding to the congestion.
I ain’t pointing fingers at anyone in particular here. Everyone, from the pedestrian to the bicyclist, to the motorcyclist, to the car and truck owner has contributed to these statistics. We are all guilty. The upside is this report is crucial in deciding where grants and infrastructure money will go to where it is needed the most. Many of the bike rental companies in Key West were quoted in this article in the Key West Citizen that more infrastructure in the form of bike paths and sidewalks is needed to make the streets safer for everyone. I would agree and I would put forth an even more radical idea, one that is in the backs of many peoples minds but they are afraid to say it. But it may be time to consider making some parts of the island off limits to vehicles. Duval Street from Truman to Front comes to mind. Make it similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans and ban vehicles from there except for emergency vehicles or special events like the Poker Run. People will squawk but as long as we are number one in those statistics, changes will have to be made.
As for those of you coming to the island or who live here. Take your time getting from one end of the island to the other. There is a reason it’s called island time. It ain’t going to float away and there is room for everyone, so far. Please drive, ride, pedal, and walk, carefully.