Photos shows FDOT staff on their bicycles avoiding a bike lane that is unsafe to use.

Florida Department of Transportation Gets Savvy

When it comes to bicycling, so often we hear complaints about what transportation departments get wrong. I thought it was about time for a good news story.

In a fantastic turn of events, DeWayne Carver was appointed in 2013 as Florida’s Statewide Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator. Why was this such a big deal? Prior to his appointment, DeWayne had been trained by the American Bicycling Education Association to become a CyclingSavvy Instructor.

Savor this for a moment: The Florida Department of Transportation appointed a CSI as its top bike/ped coordinator.

Of course, DeWayne was chosen mainly because he’s a top-notch transportation professional. But as you’ll see below, it’s clear FDOT has made the right decision.

In fall 2015 DeWayne sent notice to all seven FDOT districts encouraging them to offer CyclingSavvy to their planning and engineering staff. As both a transportation engineer and CSI, DeWayne understood the value of educating transportation professionals on how trained bicyclists operate–and how untrained cyclists can get into trouble.

As a result of DeWayne’s recommendation, four of FDOT’s seven districts held CyclingSavvy courses in 2016 for their staff. CyclingSavvy co-founder Keri Caffrey and I taught the entire course in FDOT Districts One, Five and Seven. District Two opted to take the classroom portion only of CyclingSavvy, which I taught. Last spring Keri and I taught the entire three-part course to bicycle and pedestrian safety coordinators and planners from all seven FDOT districts.

While CyclingSavvy is not a bicycle facilities design course, we entertained many questions from district staff regarding design. Our approach was not to say, “Build it this way, not that way.” We wanted to help FDOT professionals understand the most important considerations for any given location. What types of conflicting movements will cyclists be dealing with? How can that knowledge inform a better design? As practical safety-minded professionals, they appreciated this approach.

District One’s course in the small town of Bartow, FL, was our first full course. The staff there showed just how committed they were by gamely taking on State Route 60–the big truck route–during their tour.

Photo of FDOT staff riding bikes on a busy road in Bartow, FL.

FDOT staff get the full State Route 60 experience in Bartow, FL

Big truck off-tracking onto sidewalk, within inches of FDOT staff standing on it!

An unplanned demonstration of how big trucks offtrack at intersections, within inches of FDOT staff standing on the sidewalk

District Five in Orlando did a “double” class. Two CyclingSavvy instructors normally can handle 10 students for each on-bike session. With two additional CSIs, we were able to serve 20. Several FDOT employees took Sunrail to the on-road starting point for the Tour of Orlando, adding a “multi-modal” experience.

Photo of FDOT professional safely changing lanes on her bicycle in Downtown Tampa.

Excellent shoulder check from an FDOT District Seven employee as she changes lanes at a merge in downtown Tampa

Tampa presented us with a number of unusual intersections and bikeway configurations. (Yes, you must click the links in the previous sentence to understand what I’m talking about.)

Staff from all three districts impressed us with their willingness to challenge themselves and try new things. Some hadn’t been on bikes for many years, while others were quite avid cyclists.

Comments from FDOT staff were very encouraging. From the practical…

“It helped me to have a better understanding of what is safe and unsafe for a bicyclist riding on the street and why; what are the driver expectancies; what the areas of conflicts are that both the riders and the vehicles should pay attention to; the issues with biking on sidewalks, or if someone bikes on a sidewalk what the conflicts are and what to pay attention to. I have a better understanding of how to consider and evaluate bike lane accommodation holistically as a system, and when working on an isolated segment.”

“Now that I have firsthand experience of cycling in the travel lanes I am better able to consider and determine how to accommodate the needs of cyclists as we develop, review and administer our maintenance projects.”

“I honestly think that more managers and project managers should take this class. One takeaway from the class is that a bike lane isn’t appropriate in every situation and just because you can build something doesn’t mean that you should. … It really fits in well with Complete Streets and viewing the roadway from the perspective of the users.”

“Any department employee who has a role in bike/ped planning, design and operations would benefit from the course by experiencing real world application first hand rather than from behind a desk.”

… to the inspirational:

“I think one of the most influential things I learned (and practiced!) was the idea of using the entire lane instead of trying to squeeze to the side of the road to allow cars the room to pass dangerously, and to NOT view this act as being a hindrance to vehicles! … I did this several times and did not get a prolonged honk a single time! I think people really respected what I was planning to do on my bike, and how I went about it.  I actually felt very safe doing this. I did glance behind me a couple times just to make sure I knew what people behind me were doing, but it worked very well and there were no conflicts (at least that I was aware of!). Funny thing is that when I got back onto a bike lane/paved shoulder and people started buzzing back by me in their adjacent lane, that is when I actually got the unsafe feeling of cars flying by me again!  So thank you to you and your team for the “liberating” experience!”

“I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure – it got me so excited I am bike shopping now!  I won’t be doing any of those 80-mile rides, but will be riding some trails!!”

Would your area DOT benefit from a more cyclist-centric outlook? (I know, rhetorical question.) Have them contact ABEA! We can get something going. The good folks at FDOT will be happy to provide their perspective.

FDOT District Seven savvy cyclists at the University of Tampa.

Tampa’s District Seven team celebrates the completion of their CyclingSavvy course in front of the University of Tampa

Keri Caffrey, Mighk Wilson and FDOT staff on their bicycles waiting at a traffic light on a busy road in Orlando.

CyclingSavvy co-founders Keri Caffrey & Mighk Wilson lead FDOT safety professionals on a Tour of Orlando

2 replies
  1. Harold A. Karabell
    Harold A. Karabell says:

    “Just because you can build something doesn’t mean that you should . . . ” Perhaps the savviest comment of them all from the exceptionally open-minded and inquisitive FDOT staff.

    Congratulations to Mighk, Keri, and their unnamed co-instructors for yet another wonderful job of education, enlightenment, and eye-opening. And to DeWayne, of course and as well!

    I haven’t been to Tampa for nearly sixty (yes, 60!) years, when as a boy I was thrilled by the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Boarding his pirate ship remains an unforgettable memory even as my Medicare Card just arrived in the mail. 🙂

    Had I known that you’d be posing for photographs at the iconic Tampa Bay Hotel/Plant Museum/U of Tampa, I’d have joined you with my bicycle and my camera.

    Reply

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