Bicyclists deserve a safer ride from Miami-Dade | Editorial

·4 min read
David Winker

The deaths of two bicyclists on the Rickenbacker Causeway is helping shine a spotlight on what an unfriendly place Miami-Dade is for those who choose to get around on two wheels — and how it’s about time to address why we as a community so brazenly disregard their safety.

The history of cyclists, joggers and vehicles on the Rickenbacker Causeway, which offers one of the most beautiful vistas in South Florida, is long and sometimes tragic. Co-existing has not only been difficult but deadly.

But it can be fixed and should be. The deaths of two people should make it a priority.

Sunday afternoon, an eastbound Jeep on the causeway slammed into a man and woman on bikes. They were killed almost instantly, police say. Witnesses called what they saw horrific.

The collision occurred in a well-known trouble spot, a section where the roadway divides, leaving bikers vulnerable at the foot of the largest bridge leading to Key Biscayne. At that juncture, both bicyclists and the vehicles are sharing the roadway, thanks to a bad design defect that proved deadly on Sunday.

No charges causing

No charges have been filed against the Jeep driver, for now. The investigation continues. He remained on the scene and passed a sobriety test. Unfortunately, police said, just a “terrible accident.” The biking community is taking exception with that description. Try telling the loved ones of Yaudys Vera, 48, and Ogniana Reyes, 46, who died while enjoying a favorite pastime, that this was an “accident.”

The deaths have angered and alarmed members of the local bicycling community, who have long said that Miami-Dade, a motor vehicle paradise, is notorious for its lack of bike infrastructure.

It’s time to seriously begin to address that deficiency.

Adding to the outrage is a $500 million plan Miami-Dade considered — and rejected — to privately overhaul the Rickenbacker. It would have included barricades to protect bikers from cars on the causeway. Among the improvements championed by architect and cycling enthusiast Bernard Zyscovich were bike lanes separated from automobile traffic.

Zyscovich told the Herald the section where Sunday’s fatalities occurred, under his plan, would have been transformed into a separated 30-foot wide biking and pedestrian path. “There would be no need for a bicycle to ever be in the same place as a car,” he said.

But Key Biscayne leaders opposed Zyscovich’s vision, saying it did not provide the kind of adequate traffic solutions for the island community. So the plan died. How unfortunate.

Bicyclists have long said they’re tired of how the Miami area is way behind other areas around the world that have made cycling a safe mobility option. Miami is consistently ranked at or near the bottom as an unsafe city for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Since 2006, at least seven people have been killed on the Rickenbacker; four were bicyclists.

Bicyclists have also long asked for more aggressive traffic enforcement on the causeway to get drivers to slow down. They feel the causeway should be considered a parkway, not a speedway.

Activists demand answers

On Monday, members of the cycling community dispatched to Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez a “Call to Action” memorandum with two main demands. The group wrote:

In light of the recent crash on the Rickenbacker Causeway leading to the death of yet two more bicycle riders the organizations, advocates, and community members on this document insist that Miami-Dade, Miami, and the Village of Key Biscayne work immediately to take the following actions, wrote members of UHealth Bikesafe Program and Street Plans.

1. Immediately install physical, protected bike lane dividers along the entirety of the Rickenbacker Causeway. We think that is adoable.

2. Commit to a comprehensive long-term plan to implement a permanent bicycle highway facility throughout the entire causeway.

We agree.

“We’ve not received any response, as of yet,” Michelina M. Witte, of UHealth Bikesafe Program, told the Editorial Board of their missive to the mayors. The causeway falls under the distinction of both Miami-Dade and Miami..

Mayor Levine Cava did issue a statement on Twitter saying she would address the concerns of bicyclists adding that her husband had been injured in a bike-vehicle collision in 2018.

“This is why we invested over $15 million in this year’s budget in pedestrian and cyclist safety, and why Miami-Dade has joined Vision Zero - a comprehensive approach dedicated to eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries, which has been implemented across the world,” Mayor said. “As part of Vision Zero, we have already identified top 50 high-injury locations prioritized for improvements countywide.”

Twitter followers had lots of questions for the mayor: Is the Rickenbacker Causeway on that list? Are concrete barricades to separate riders and vehicles part of the solution?

The mayor should respond. It’s about time to seriously address what a death trap the Rickenbacker can be for those not behind the wheel of a car. Given the tortured history of this life and death issue and the passions it inflames, Levine Cava should form a task force with stakeholders and a mandate to find a quick solution to finally separate cyclists, joggers and vehicles. It’s not rocket science, and it’s taken far too long to resolve this critical issue.

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