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Catherine Durkin Robinson: Walking, riding a bike can be dangerous to your health

“That was close.”

I say that a lot.

I’ve been running a few years now and cycling for almost 11 months. These activities are supposed to be good for my health, but there are days I’d be safer at home on the couch.

When running, I try to stay on sidewalks. In Tampa’s finest neighborhoods, no less, that means I routinely trip over elevated cracks, run through ankle-deep puddles of water or find myself where the sidewalk suddenly ends and no other option is in sight.

I’ve been to third-world countries. Tampa’s sidewalks are worse.

Then I take to the street and I’m almost hit multiple times by cars that get just a little too close. They invade my personal space. Once a guy grabbed my ass while riding by on his scooter. I’ve gotten more respectful treatment at Ybor City dive bars.

Last weekend alone, while running, two different drivers were too busy texting or talking to see me until I hit their trunk and smiled a toothy grin.

When my kids want to run, I stick them on a local middle school’s track and tell them to pretend to be hamsters. They complain it’s boring, but at least they’re alive to complain.

My options for cycling are Davis Islands — a residential area with few cars and wide open roads.

That’s it, y’all.

I won’t ride my bicycle anywhere else because my kids have asked me to live at least until graduation. I told them I would, so, a promise is a promise. Davis Islands it is.

I can’t help but wonder why, in too many neighborhoods, runners and walkers and parents pushing strollers or walking dogs can’t do so on safe, connected sidewalks. Children are too often hit by cars and killed simply trying to cross the street and get to school. Crosswalks are few and far between, and barely lit. Drivers tend to ignore them anyway.

Walking, running or riding my bike is like a game of Frogger, with very few winners and too many losers.

Tampa has the distinction of being No. 2 in the nation for pedestrian fatalities. Florida is No. 1 in the country for cycling deaths. We don’t even keep track of the injuries. Whenever I hear about a walker or runner getting struck and killed, I feel a sense of dread.

It could be me.

It could be one of my friends, neighbors or loved ones.

Recently, I heard about a cyclist dying nearby and I searched the Internet to find more information.

That’s when I discovered Walk Bike Tampa, a new organization formed to do something about the lack of safe streets. I got in touch with them right away. I’m in New York City several times a year. I used to live in Boston and have relatives in Philadelphia, D.C. and Chicago. I can’t believe Tampa beats these places in anything other than equal ratio of leather couches and faces, humidity level or winning entries in the “cockroach or small horse? You decide” photo entries on Buzzfeed.

Yet I feel so much safer there when I’m trying to cross the street.

Let’s look at those other cities, both here in the United States and abroad, where people are able to walk and ride their bikes without so many fatalities. Would our problem be solved with more crosswalks? Elevated bike lanes with barriers between the bicycles and the road?

Should we foster a community spirit where leaders protect and encourage people who ride their bikes to work and school?

Absolutely.

In a world where obesity is out of control and people are looking for alternatives to gas and oil, we’d be smart to get more people moving themselves through our streets. But we can do that only if people feel safe. Many Tampa residents come from all over the country, and they bring with them innovative ideas. Why not listen?

Join Walk Bike Tampa and lend your voice to the idea that our kids, and their parents, must get around Tampa safely and soundly.

Rather than not at all.

***

Catherine Durkin Robinson co-parents twin sons, organizes families for advocacy purposes, writes syndicated columns, mentors kids, runs a few races and is now the volunteer Grassroots Director on the board of Walk Bike Tampa. Text SAFESTREETS to 52886 for more information. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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