Miami-Dade Hoping To Increase Bicycle Safety

On Behalf of | May 3, 2011 | Bike Accidents

In hopes of reducing bicycle accidents in Miami, the Royal Netherlands embassy in Washington has dispatched three of the famously bike-friendly country’s top experts on “cycling as transportation” to Miami, where they will spend three days figuring out how to turn the city’s car-clogged downtown into a virtual Amsterdam of safe, connected bikeways.

The ThinkBike Workshop comes to town as Florida’s transportation department and some local governments have embarked on a push to refit the mean streets and roads of Miami-Dade County to accommodate, even embrace, bicycles.

The plan is to construct miles of new bike lanes and bike-friendly wide shoulders along principal byways from Krome Avenue in West Miami-Dade to Collins Avenue and Alton Road on Miami Beach, Red Road along the western border of Coral Gables and Northeast 125th Street in North Miami, among others.

As reported by The Miami Herald, the ultimate goal is to create an eventual network of on-street bikeways that encourage people to use bicycles for their daily business – to get to school or work, to run errands, to go out to eat or visit the neighborhood park – as casually as the Dutch do.

The approach follows the Dutch experience, where extreme bike-friendliness didn’t just happen. Experts say it took 40 years of concerted bicycle planning, street re-engineering, promotion and education, but the Dutch have shown that hordes of people will happily hop on their bikes if it’s safe and convenient to do so.

The very thought that an auto-crazy city like Miami can – and even must – become bicycle-friendly may strike some as nuts. Advocates concede it will take more than a few road tweaks and some serious attitude adjustment, especially among Miami’s notoriously careless and aggressive motorists, before more people become willing to brave cycling on its streets.

But they say anecdotal evidence, some studies and recent experience suggest enough people are eager to try it, especially younger residents in revitalized urban neighborhoods, to more than justify the effort, which is relatively inexpensive. Although state law permits bicycles on nearly all roadways, experts say dedicated bike lanes improve safety, encourage more people to ride and, as an added bonus, act to calm motorized traffic. That betters safety for everyone, including pedestrians. Local planners say more people are already looking for alternative transportation as gas prices spike, and cite the startling success of Miami Beach’s new DecoBike program, which provides station-to-station rentals. It’s generated thousands of rentals in its first few weeks of operation, with only half the system installed.

Miami, which two years ago approved an ambitious bicycling master plan calling for miles of new bikeways, is about to issue a request for proposals for its own bike-sharing program, which would operate downtown and in Brickell, said Alice Bravo, the city’s director of capital improvement projects.

A key piece in the burgeoning transformation, advocates say, is a fresh approach by FDOT’s district office, once regarded as hostile to cyclists. The agency hired a consultant, Stewart Robertson of engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates, to incorporate bike planning in the early stages of every local FDOT road project.

However, not all has been smooth sailing, as even some specifically designated as bike routes – remain perilous for cyclists. The website documented half a dozen bike-car accidents in one week in April alone.

In one, two people riding in a relatively new bike lane along the MacArthur Causeway were struck from behind by a car, leaving one man critically injured. TransitMiami writers say simply slapping down some stripes too often results in poorly conceived bike lanes like the MacArthur’s, which they argue should include curbs or barriers – such as the Dutch often use – to separate riders from fast auto traffic.

Another problem is that local police often do not enforce laws protecting cyclists, such as a 2-year-old state law that prohibits cars from passing bikes at less than three feet of distance, or to go after motorists who harass them.

The fact that Miami-Dade is truly committed to increasing bicycle safety and promoting cycling is truly great news.

As the report points out, the plan must be comprehensive, and as important as the bike lanes are, equally important is the task of educating motorist and cyclist alike.

Another key is the enforcement of Florida Statute 316.083, which states:

(1) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall give an appropriate signal as provided for in s. 316.156, shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle.

Enforcement and education of this statute, otherwise known as the three foot law, will go a long way in reducing the number of Miami Bicycle Accidents.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.