Cyclists getting police escorts, exit closures on Rickenbacker Causeway in safety plan

·4 min read
Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Miami-Dade County plans to close some exits on the Rickenbacker Causeway and launch police escorts for group cycling rides in an effort to improve biking safety on the scenic link between Miami and Key Biscayne.

In a memo released this week, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced a package of changes for the county-run thoroughfare, some coming in weeks, others later in the year.

The plan follows the May 15 deaths in an auto collision of two people riding their bikes on the Rickenbacker. Cycling advocates and others demanded county action to upgrade safety on a causeway that’s been the source of cycling fatalities for years.

Levine Cava’s proposed changes include:

  • Ending the U-turn option under the William Powell Bridge, which currently allows eastbound cars to get back to the mainland without having to cross the bridge. That’s the turn lane where Ogniana Reyes, 46, and Yaudys Vera, 48, died on the afternoon of May 15 in a collision with an eastbound Jeep driven by a man whom Miami police did not identify. He was charged with traffic citations. The turn-off for the underpass overlaps with the Rickenbacker’s eastbound bike lane, and county crews are scheduled to block off that option with barriers by July 6, according to the memo. It would still be available for cars leaving the parking lot for Hobie Beach, allowing them to rejoin the Rickenbacker heading west.

  • Trying to steer “pack” cyclists — “pelotons” or groups of cyclists bunched together in a racing formation — into weekly morning events with closed-off lanes through Bear Cut Bridge. The closed lanes would be enforced by Miami-Dade police. The Levine Cava memo said the first two-hour escort window would occur on two Tuesdays (July 12 and 19) and two Sundays (July 17 and July 24). She described it as a short-term experiment. The administration plan calls for one lane reserved for cyclists in both directions. Pack cycling has been a source of friction on the Rickenbacker because the bike formations sometimes extend beyond bike lanes into traffic lanes.

  • Closing off the existing eastbound entrance into the Hobie Beach parking lot by the foot of the Powell bridge’s eastern side, and creating a new one farther down the causeway. The entrance to the popular park is close to the end of the bridge where cyclists are often moving at a high rate of speed as the bike lane overlaps with the vehicle turn lane into Hobie Beach. That’s expected to take about six months to complete.

Bike advocates and the causeway

Levine Cava’s memo did not announce permanent barriers for bike lanes on the Rickenbacker. She said the county hopes to pay for those later with the help of state and city contributions. While under county jurisdiction, the Rickenbacker falls within Miami city limits. Aside from concrete barriers as an option, Miami-Dade may pursue a more visually appealing option, such as landscaping buffers.

Mickey Witte is a University of Miami neuroscientist who helped lead the push for cycling upgrades on the Rickenbacker. She said her group still wants Miami-Dade to put permanent barriers along bike lanes on the causeway, but also sees exit closures as big victories.

“It’s not mission accomplished,” Witte said. “But we are happy. The advocates are cheering right now.”

How will cycling groups operate?

Raquel Regalado, the county commissioner whose district includes the causeway and Key Biscayne, said she didn’t oppose the “peloton” experiment, but noted pack cyclists “are not a significant user group of the Rickenbacker” since most people on bikes, including the two killed in May, are out for recreation or light exercise and remain in bike lanes. In a memo this week, Regalado urged the administration to focus its effort on exit closures and permanent infrastructure improvements, including higher curbs and bike-lane barriers in dangerous areas.

Mike Davey, mayor of Key Biscayne, said he’s willing to see the group cycling experiment play out, but said residents would not support losing driving lanes once congestion returns with the start of school.

“I think anything that reduces conflict between drivers and cyclists should be viewed in a positive light,” he said. “They’re trying it in the summer, when the traffic is significantly less. I don’t think it will be that big of an issue. The concern would be if they wanted to make it permanent.”

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