In Florida, we are fortunate to have the kind of weather that allows us to get outside almost every day of the year. Yet many of us avoid doing one outdoor activity in particular, and for good reason: riding a bike in many Florida cities — particularly in Miami — is simply not safe.
Although the state of Florida and many cities have installed bike lanes on roads throughout the state, these lanes are little more than painted lines on the side of the road. As demonstrated by the number of people hurt or killed each year in Florida bike accidents, these lanes do little to protect bicyclists. Too many people are suffering broken bones, lacerations, brain injuries, and more after being hit by cars, trucks and SUVs.
A recent study offers data to back up what activists have long claimed is the best way to protect bicyclists: a physical barrier between bike lanes and car traffic. If these types of lanes are installed in Miami, we could see a dramatic increase in the safety of bicycling — and more people out riding their bikes as a result.
The Dangers of Bike Accidents in Florida
In Florida, there are extensive laws and other systems designed to protect bicyclists from danger. This includes road designs such as shared lane markings (“sharrows”) and bike lanes where bicyclists can ride. Yet despite these efforts, accidents and fatalities continue to rise across Florida — including here in Miami.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), in 2018 alone, there were 6,568 bicycle crashes in Florida. 148 bicyclists died as a result of those accidents. In Miami-Dade County, there were 817 bicycle crashes in 2018, which included 18 fatalities.
The Miami Herald reports that Miami is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous places in the United States for bicyclists. The city averages 7.9 bike fatalities for every 10,000 commuters each year. Miami is known for driver hostility towards bicyclists and lack of safety.
When bicyclists collide with motor vehicles, the cyclist takes the brunt of the injury. Whether the crash is due to distracted driving, speeding, or simple inattention, when a large object hits a relatively unprotected person, the results can be disastrous. Victims of bike accidents often suffer severe or even fatal injuries.
Although South Florida’s climate makes it an ideal place to bike nearly year-round, without a safe way to do so, residents and tourists alike will not engage in this activity. One solution to this issue may be to upgrade our bike lanes to better protect cyclists from drivers.
How Physical Protection Can Help
A recent study from Monash University in Australia shows how a simple line of paint is generally not enough to protect bicyclists from drivers. The study’s authors collected data from 60 cyclists in Melbourne who rode their bikes with a device that quantified the distance that drivers provided them while passing. Over the course of the study, these devices recorded more than 18,500 vehicles passed bicycles in 422 trips.
The results may surprise you — unless you are a regular cyclist. Out of every 17 vehicles that passed a bicyclist, one came within 1 meter (3 feet, 3.37 inches) of the bike. 124 vehicles came within 60 centimeters (23.622 inches — less than 2 feet)! In higher speed zones (the equivalent of 40 mph or greater), almost 1 in 3 vehicles came within 150 centimeters (59 inches).
This study demonstrated what many bicyclists already know: lines of paint delineating a bike lane do little, if anything, to protect cyclists from motor vehicles. According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Ben Beck, “We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation.”
The solution to make bikers safer and reduce the number of accidents and fatalities is relatively simple: put physical barriers between bicycle lanes and lanes of traffic. This will decrease the likelihood that cars will strike bicyclists as they are forced to overtake them. It will also end the practice of bicyclists and drivers having to share a lane.
How a Miami Bike Accident Lawyer Can Help
Each year, far too many Floridians are injured and die in bike accidents. We can stop this epidemic by taking common sense action, like putting up physical barriers to protect cyclists in bike lanes.
Kaire & Heffernan is a Miami-based law firm that represents victims of bike accidents and other types of personal injury lawsuits. With deep Florida roots, we strongly believe in the right of all victims to get justice and compensation for their injuries. To learn more, contact our office at 305-372-0123 or online to schedule a free initial consultation with a Miami bike accident lawyer.