What do birds, bikes, and tourists have in common? They’re all headed to Miami next month — whether we’re ready we’re not. And I suspect we’re not, at least where the bicycles are concerned.
Here’s what’s happening.
WHEELS: Advancing Florida’s Mobility Future is a large-scale, pro-pedestrian conference set to hit Miami for five days, beginning Wednesday, November 11. It’ll bring bikers by the dozen, but they’re not coming for fun in the sun. It’s the future that they want to shine a light on.
That’s right, these principled peddlers are here to change the world, or at least Miami’s corner of it. They argue that the best way for Miami to get out of its traffic crisis is on two wheels (or two feet, for the nomadically inclined).
Bicycles, they say, are a fast, efficient, and affordable means of moving around South Florida. To boot, bikes can burn fat and build a sense of community. Indeed, the WHEEL-ers say, an old-fashioned bicycle could be the long-awaited answer to many a Miami vice… and they’ve been right in front of us this whole time.
And here’s the thing — they’re right. Bikes are better than many of the other solutions submitted for the local traffic/pollution/obesity crises, but Miami isn’t ready for them yet. And that’s our own fault.
Let me explain.
Miami Is Lethal to Pedestrians
The Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano Beach metro currently ranks as the 4th deadliest place for pedestrians in the entire United States. That’s true for both walkers and cyclists, the two groups that the WHEELS group hopes to see more of in South Florida.
Our neighbors to the north, meanwhile — Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville — take the top three spots. No state sees more pedestrian deaths than Florida.
Miami is aware of that. The city and county governments have made mention of the problem, roundly condemned it, and paid lip service toward a solution. But we’ve yet to see real change.
Our city and the broader metro area remain incredibly dangerous places for pedestrians of any kind.
As a Miami attorney, I’ve seen the human side of these statistics. They aren’t numbers. They’re lives. And they’re real.
Clean Your House Before You Throw a Party
Miami city leaders welcome WHEELS with open arms, and while I’m happy to see these ambitious bikers working to change our city too, it’s strange to see officials ask more cyclists to visit a city that has done very little to protect them.
It’s a bit like hosting a fondue party when all your cheese is moldy and the forks are rusted.
Miami should fix its pedestrian problem before it invites more would-be victims to join in Magic City’s shameful statistics.
Traffic Is Deadly Too, So Kudos to WHEELS
To be clear: WHEELS are not the ones to blame. Miami should be a place where bicycling blooms. Just take a look at our highways. Gridlock has become as quintessentially Miami as beaches and sunbathing.
Sadly enough, our city sees more traffic citations than any other city in Florida. The Miami New Times recently declared that ours are the worst drivers in the state. Traffic accidents remain a leading cause of serious injury and death here.
So the WHEEL-ers have a point. Getting out of the gridlock is a good way to protect yourself. But in Miami, at least, the side of the road is a poor substitute. Until the city does more to protect cyclists and pedestrians here, the roadways remain a real threat whether you put plantar to pedal or rubber to road.
WHEELS of Change?
At Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, we have called on Miami’s leaders to green light immediate changes to the metro’s infrastructure, with the specific aim of reducing cyclist and pedestrian fatalities by this time next year.
Unfortunately, if those changes arrive at all, they won’t be here in time for this November’s WHEELS symposium. We’re thrilled that these health-and-wellness advocates are coming, but we hope they’ll exercise caution as much as their calves.
Miami may not be ready for these conscientious cyclers, but it might nevertheless need them. Their message is one of momentum. Maybe they’ll be the WHEELS on which change arrives at long last.