Miami does not hold a boast-worthy record when it comes to cyclist safety. But as new poles are added to the I-95 express lanes, the city has a unique opportunity to make life easier — and safer — for citizens who travel by bike.
After a public outcry over thousands of accidents involving the express lanes, the Florida Department of Transportation earlier this year acknowledged the danger and agreed to replace the plastic poles on the interstate through Miami-Dade County. FDOT currently is installing new poles that are sturdier, are made of a more-durable plastic and will be placed closer together — 5 feet rather than 10 feet — in an effort to put a stop to hazardous “lane diving” in and out of the express lanes.
A Deadly City for Cyclists
The danger on Miami’s roads isn’t limited to the interstate, nor is it limited to vehicles. Riding a bike in Miami requires more than a little courage, considering the cavalier attitudes of many motorists toward cyclists. Miami drivers speed on the area’s thoroughfares and often have little patience for cyclists who get in their way.
Florida has the highest rate of bicycle fatalities in the country, and Miami is the state’s fourth-most dangerous city. Just between 2010 and 2014, more than 3,500 cyclists suffered injuries in Miami, while 47 died.
Cyclists say some drivers have become more accepting and more accommodating, but the roads remain dangerous for those without the protection of automobiles. Experienced cyclists know they must ride aggressively and take measures to be seen in traffic.
In addition to poor driver attitudes and habits, Miami’s lack of infrastructure also makes the roads dangerous for bike riders. In recent years, South Florida has improved — for instance, by adding a bike-sharing program along with “share the road” signs and a few bike lanes.
But, the city’s commitment to improving safety, following the tragic death’s of cyclists in Key Biscayne, has fallen short. In typical Miami fashion, the city leaders have catered to developers, and ignored the pedestrians and commuters. The city skyline is lined with cranes as high rises go up in succession. Sidewalks are taken away, and lanes are narrowed. Miami remains far behind progressive cities in implementing important cycling infrastructure like bicycle boulevards and protected bike lanes.
Bicycling Magazine notes that the city has the potential to create an exceptional bike network using two planned projects: the Ludlam Trail, west of the city’s center, and the Underline that runs beneath the metro rail. And a joint proposal — from FDOT, the city and the county — for protected lanes on causeway bridges also is a step in the right direction. But especially with the advent of the bike-sharing system, cyclists need and deserve better infrastructure to enjoy the city’s ideal weather and wide, flat roads.
Opportunity Knocks: The Venetian Causeway
Miami currently has a unique opportunity to add important cycling infrastructure and make the city more competitive with cycling-friendly metropolitan areas around the country.
Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, proposes that the city retain the poles being removed from the I-95 express lanes and use them to add physical separation between bike lanes and driving lanes in Florida. Specifically, we suggest that the poles be used to separate the bike lanes from the driving lanes on the Venetian Causeway.
We’ve told you in the past about some of the ways in which the Venetian Causeway bike lanes fall short. The road recently underwent a significant, $12.4-million upgrade that included months of extensive repairs and renovation.
Area cyclists have noted their appreciation of the upgrades, which are expected to reduce the danger of accidents for both bike riders and pedestrians. But cyclists also have expressed disappointment that the promised bike lane on the road turned out to be more of a “bike line” — just one white line painted on the roadway to designate separation between bikes and fast-moving cars.
Other cities have created so-called “buffered” bike lanes, which are separated by physical barriers from road traffic. The buffered lanes are paying off with fewer accidents, injuries and deaths to cyclists.
While the improvements to the causeway are a positive step, Miami can do more for its bike-riding population. By making use of the poles being removed from the I-95 express lanes, Miami can create its own version of a buffered bike lane to protect cyclists on the Venetian Causeway.
Installing a new barrier using the repurposed poles will make life easier for cyclists and pedestrians, allowing them to enjoy the gorgeous views with the promise of greater safety. We hope the powers that be in Miami will consider our proposal to reuse the poles. Doing so would save money and lives!
Improve Health for Residents
A recent study done by the School of Public Health at Columbia University in NYC found that an increase in bike lanes not surprisingly also increased the probability residents would ride a bike. NYC spent $8 million in 2015 to create 45.5 miles of bike lanes and saw an increase in bike ridership by 9%. This isn’t only reducing traffic, it is improving the health of the riders. The study also found that for every $1300 NYC invested in creating bike lanes provided the equivalent of one additional year of life over the lifetime of all residents. These benefits are so impressive they are a better return on investment than direct health initiatives. Though, these types of benefits cannot be gain by simply painting white lines on the streets. All the bike lanes lanes in the student were barrier protected bike lanes.
Standing up for Cyclists in Miami
To the city’s credit, Miami has made some improvements to help keep cyclists safe on the roads. But we believe that our local officials can do much more. Reusing the poles from the I-95 express lanes project to protect cyclists on the Venetian Causeway is a good start.