As the sun rises, Officer Kurt Iskra of Largo Police Department’s traffic enforcement unit watches the intersection of Missouri Avenue and Bay Drive June 17, on the lookout for bicyclists without head and taillights. On the hood of his truck are the lights the department is giving out to those whose bike is not properly equipped.
LARGO – At 5:30 a.m., Officer Kurt Iskra of Largo Police Department’s traffic enforcement unit is on the lookout for bicyclists who are hard to see under the dark of night.
With a flashlight, he’ll “pull over” those who aren’t using the proper equipment as they bike to work, a bus stop, home after the night shift or to school.
“If people don’t have bike lights, then we stop them,” Iskra explained.
Bicyclists riding without white headlights and red taillights between sunset and sunrise are in violation of state law. Largo police can issue a citation, which levies a $15 fine. But for first violation, they’ll give the bicyclists a warning and the proper equipment.
“We’ll give them a set of bike lights and a set of batteries,” Iskra said.
The Florida Department of Transportation provides the lights to Largo Police Department as well as other law enforcement agencies in the area. The program is an effort to save lives, first and foremost, said Sgt. George Edmiston, head of Largo’s traffic enforcement unit.
“The Tampa Bay area has grown to the top fatal area for bicyclists,” he said.
The Tampa office of the state department wants the LED lights used as enforcement tool, Edmiston said. He calls Largo’s local effort “Operation: Light Them Up.”
“Our goal is to get every bike on the roadway lit up,” he said.
Rather than waiting until they are stopped, Edmiston encourages residents to ask for the lights at the front desk of the department, at 201 Highland Ave. Officers will install the free lights on any bicycles without them.
Iskra said he’s seen more and more bicycles sporting the proper equipment.
“The department’s given out quite a few lights, so there’s a lot of people that actually have them, which is a good thing,” he said.
And by now, most bicyclists know why they’re being stopped. Being able to offer them the lights for free mitigates the stop, he added.
“Some people don’t have the money to buy them,” he said.
Others claim to have had lights, but say they were stolen after leaving their bikes chained to poles or at bus stops.
“If you leave them on there, people are going to take everything that’s not tied down. It’s unfortunate, but it happens,” Iskra said.
Jesse Quinn of Largo was stopped along East Bay Drive June 17 for not having lights on his bicycle, which he said he’s riding until he could get his driver’s license back. The bicycle “does the job” but isn’t his favorite mode of transportation, he said.
“It’s a nightmare, especially in the summertime,” Quinn explained.
He was headed to an interview for a second job at a landscaping company that was hiring, he explained, as he waited for Iskra to write him a warning. He said he knew he should have had lights on his bike.
“I tried to wait as long as I could till it got a little light out,” he said.
Iskra headed to the intersection of Missouri Avenue and Bay Drive after giving Quinn the new lights. There isn’t much time between the start of Iskra’s shift and sunrise. At 7 a.m., he usually meets up with two other officers in his division to see if there has been any specific traffic complaints they can address: speeding in a specific neighborhood, frequent disregard of a stop sign or motorists running a red light at a particular intersection. The traffic unit has a proactive approach to addressing issues on Largo’s roads and more flexibility than the patrol division, which often is reacting to calls for service.
“We get to do more on our own than actually being assigned to where to go,” Iskra said.
For more information about the bicycle light program or the traffic unit, call Edmiston at 586-7473.