Riding a bicycle in Florida without proper lights can cost $159 per ticket — money better used for a family’s weekly grocery bill or plenty of life’s other expenses.
The employees of the University of Florida Police Department know that $159 is a steep price to pay for the nearly 10 percent of UF students and faculty who use their bicycles to get around campus every day. That is one reason they have partnered with Sustainable UF to educate bike riders both on and off campus during March for Florida Bike Month.
During an event called “UFPD: Lights Not Tickets,” UF Sustainability employees and UFPD officers handed out more than 50 pairs of bike lights and registered bikes to help deter bike theft.
UF Campus bicycle program coordinator Jacob Adams carefully and quickly unwrapped and assembled pair after pair of bike lights, described the main problem.
“The fact is a lot of students do ride at night and a lot of students ride at night without lights,” he said.
As the UF Campus bicycle program coordinator and an avid bike rider himself, Adams could not stress enough the importance of education for bike safety. Adams was once also the victim of an off-roading bike accident that left his helmet broken in four places. Adams was injured but alive. He fully believes wearing a helmet saved his life that day.
Adams and UFPD officers believe education is the best way to ensure bicycle safety on campus.
“A lot of students won’t know the specific combination of needing to have a front and a rear light. Some students don’t know they have to have lights,” said Adams. “They’ll think reflectors are good enough. So it’s always good to get the word out.”
In police Lt. Jake Pruitt’s experience, this has proven to be true.
“Students say, ‘Campus is really lit. Why do I need a bike light?’” said Pruitt.
“And it’s true. Campus is pretty lit for the most part,” officer Courtney Alexander added. “But there are some dark places that you just can’t see them.”
The official bike light requirements are powered front and rear lights. Front lights must be white and back lights must be red and solid, never blinking. A reflector is also required on the rear in case the back light fails.
Even for students who are aware of the bike light requirements, it isn’t always as easy as purchasing one pair of lights. Lights are often stolen right off of bikes at the bike racks.
“I know that lights are an easy thing for people to steal. I can see that being a barrier for somebody,” said Adams. “You can buy lights that have to be screwed on and off with tool, but those are more expensive.”
But even lights that require tools to get on and off are not immune to being swiped.
UF student Moritz Rosler had his bike lights stolen off of his bike 3 weeks ago.
“You had to use a tool to get them off and they were still stolen,” Rosler said.
Other students like Rachel Feldman found themselves without lights for less sinister reasons.
“I did have lights, but the battery died. When I saw this event, I could just get a free one. That’s easier than replacing my battery, honestly,” said Feldman.
Students like Feldman who ride their bike every day may not have the time or means to replace dead or stolen lights before the sun sets.
Even though many UF students and faculty may be able to be ticketed for breaking little known bicycle laws, UFPD officers rarely opt for writing the citation.
“You know, the intention is not to have that big fiscal punishment,” said Pruitt. “ We mainly do a lot of warnings and education.”
Part of that education is partnering with UF Sustainability and the Florida Department of Transportation to provide free lights and helmets at the precinct every day.
UF earned silver status in the Bicycle Friendly University Program when it was last evaluated in 2016. The university will be reapplying next summer. The City of Gainesville is also ranked as a silver city, and initiatives like these can help make both the campus and the city more bicyclist friendly.
“I think we’re very likely to get gold on campus. We’ve done a lot since our last assessment,” said Adams. “We’re hoping we can all move up to gold together.”