In mid-June, Transit Miami published Harry Gottlieb’s community commentary on the dangerous state of some of our bridges in Miami-Dade County for bicyclists. Harry and others had sounded the alarm well before, asking FDOT and Miami Dade County to fix those bridges that lead to a bloodfest should you fall on metal grates that are used on a considerable number of the bridges leading over waterways in Miami Dade County. FDOT’s usual response was at display: putting its head in the sand, claiming that the agency didn’t know that the combination of moisture and metal is not a good fit for cyclists. Miami Dade County has at least tentative plans to fix the bridges it is responsible for, but is also not making aggressive moves to do so. Since FDOT asked for data even in the face of the obvious, we asked our FB page readers and very quickly received responses detailing the sometimes horrendous crashes that this design causes. The Broward and Miami New Times published an article on the issue. The solutions are relatively straightforward although there is some cost involved, including the use of anti-slip metal plates or the filling in of the space with solid material (weight considerations will certainly be an issue). Here is a picture of Brickell Avenue at the Miami River, with a cheese grater surface. Within a couple of days last week, we heard from two cyclists that fell and got seriously injured on two different drawbridges, both within the purview of FDOT . We post here Renato’s and Kris’s stories of last week and Jess’s story from half a year ago. Please note that some of the pictures are graphic, but it seems necessary to post them so that those in positions to actually do something will have a realistic picture of the damage and pain that their design causes. Renato’s story is testament not only to the dangers of FDOT design, but also our idiosyncratic health care system (we’ll leave the latter of others to deal with):
Please find attached pictures of my drawbridge cycling accident 09/06/14. This needless and most painful accident resulted from crashing upon the dangerous slippery metal grates on the Miami River Brickell Ave. drawbridge. On Saturday early morning I started my bike ride to KB. Two miles into it, on top of the Brickell Ave. drawbridge my front tire slipped as a result of the moist, slippery and dangerous metal grates and I fell. I had to react fast since I knew there were cars coming. A lady stopped her car and asked me a few time if I was ok. She wouldn’t leave until she saw me walking down the bridge. I think I was more worry about my Tri-bike than myself at the beginning. I didn’t know how bad my injuries were until I got to my car. I went to my house and woke my wife up, she immediately helped me to clean myself a bit and we went out to look for an Urgent Care. We went around for 30 minutes looking for an open Urgent Care around the midtown area but they all open at 10 am (Urgent Care Insurance copay is $50, ER Insurance copay is $700). At 9:30 am I went to Coral Gables Urgent Care but I was told they couldn’t do anything due to the way my injuries were. I went to Coral Gables ER and I got 5 stitches on my left knee, scratches and bruises on my left arm and hip. Bike damages probably $400 for a new handlebar, medical expenses so far have been about $1000 with ER and medicine. I still need to go see the specialist and therapist, although I am lucky I only suffered scratches, bruises and 5 stitches on my left knee. I can’t bend my knee until next week. Still shaken up and in a good deal of pain. I can’t get on my bike for at least 2 to 3 weeks and most likely will miss the most important triathlon in Miami due to this incident. I don’t want other cyclists to go through this. An ex-fire fighter friend of mine told me that years ago his station received a call of a cyclist being hit by a car on that same bridge. The cyclist slipped and fell on top of the drawbridge and a van ran over him. He was killed in that accident. How many more accidents do we need to have to get the attention of FDOT and MDC? How many more cyclists have to be injured or even die before they to do something to improve the safety for all?
Half a year before, on the same bridge we were told about the following story by Jess:
I took a pretty bad fall this past February while transiting from work at the Coast Guard Sector, near Miami Beach, to my apartment in Brickell. It had started raining after work, but I had biked in the rain several times before and figured I would be fine for getting home. Right before the bridge, I had to stop at a red light slowing speed immensely before crossing over the grates. That being said, I would estimate my speed to be roughly 18 to 19 mph. The right side of the Brickell Bridge is already tough for cycling as it has some sort of accumulation of cement or construction material spilled on it, making for a rough ride. I am very careful to cross this part and have to stay further in traffic to do so. As I crossed the bridge and hit the grates, I felt as though I was driving a car on ice. In slow motion, I watched as my bike started sliding sporadically beneath me. Being clipped in to my pedals, as most serious cyclists are, I was unable to just step off my bike. After a solid 5 feet of sliding I lost all control and had to take the fall. I landed on my left side and my bike flew off to the right. I barely missed being run over by the car behind me, as they too had trouble stopping with how slippery the bridge was from oils brought up during the rain. I quickly got up and walked myself and my bike off the bridge in immense pain. I was bleeding so much that I soon became lightheaded and was very lucky that the man that stopped behind me came back to rush me to the ER. I spent 5 hours there and ended up with 3 stitches in my elbow, several bruises on my left side, and many cuts. My bike frame, carbon fiber, was also totaled from the fall. As a result, I was set back 2 weeks in ironman training and missed a week of work from the pain and fatigue following trauma. I had noticed that bridge could be challenging with narrow race tires before, but the rain aggravated the situation. I would take the sidewalks as an alternative, but it is equally unsafe to do so with so many pedestrians. Walking in bike shoes in the rain also poses a problem. If the bridge could be altered to be more bike friendly, that would be wonderful.
A few days after Renato’s crash, Kris fell on the 63rd Street bridge in Miami Beach, another bridge for which FDOT bears responsibility:
It was a Tuesday night 9/9/2014, and I was on my usual commute back from work. That evening it had mildly rained on the Beach, but nothing too heavy. I was riding my bike up the bridge on Alton, to merge onto Indian Creek at approximately 8:50pm. I climbed the first part of the bridge without any incident, but as soon as my tires hit the grates on the bridge, my bike starting to slip. I felt that there was no way I could keep control, but managed to hold on as long as I could, still falling and impacting my left hip, shoulder, and forearm. My hand also slid across the grate, and opened a deep wound like cheese to a grater, and my palm, and left ring finger impacted the grates as well causing bruising. Picking myself up in a matter of seconds, both cars behind me stopped, and one of the vehicles with two passengers asked me “are you okay, can we help you?” & “don’t ride your bike on wet grates”. I told them I was fine, and pulled everything to the side, I took off my shirt, and wrapped it around my hand to stop the bleeding. I was about a mile away from home, so I got back on my bike which had been scratched on my Sram apex shifter, and saddle, and rode the rest of the way home putting my weight only on my right arm, and hand. When I got home I just changed my outfit, and waited for my mom to arrive to take me to the hospital. She took me to Mt. Sinai where I had to get an x-ray, a tetanus shot, and get 4 stitches. I will be doing a police report, and filling a claims form for FDOT to take responsibility. I will hold them accountable of damage to myself, and to my vehicle.
So, there you have it FDOT. Our facebook posting has more stories, as if that was necessary. Here is a picture of SW 2nd Ave, also crossing the Miami River, which has a non-slippery surface (and which as far as we know is not an FDOT road, but rather belongs to Miami Dade County). While we realize that there may be some serious engineering problems involved in putting concrete onto these bridges, FDOT’s District 4 (responsible for Broward, Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties) has at least begun to do what other places around the country have been doing before and has installed a non-slippery surface on Hillsborough
Blvd Inlet as it crosses the Intracoastal.
The solution isn’t rocket science and the script is already in FDOT’s hand. We encourage FDOT and Miami-Dade County to move forward and prioritize retrofitting the bridges quickly. Other cyclists shouldn’t have to go through what Renato, Jess, Kris and so many others have had to endure. There really aren’t any excuses any longer and it is time to for both FDOT and the County to act. We have written to the local FDOT official more than once asking where they are in the process of making the bridges that can easily lead to horrific crashes safer. We have not heard from them so far, but will continue to follow up. We owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Gottlieb for continuing to stay on the case. Further updates to follow.
Update (09/16/2014): We have in the meantime heard from Miami Dade County about upcoming projects and they seem to be moving forward with increasing safety. The Miami Avenue bridge is currently being rebuilt and the County is looking into the feasibility of installing plates similar to those on Hillsborough Blvd, as per the above pictures. The Venetian Causeway is currently undergoing a major renovation, which may include a replacement of the bridges. Even if replacement will not take place, the “chosen option will incorporate a solid deck or plates in order to address the bicyclist concerns”. Because of the projected length of the bridge reconstruction on the Venetian Causeway, the County will ask an engineering consulting firm to evaluate those and the other cheese grater bridges that the County is responsible for with respect to “implementing the installation of the aforementioned plates where applicable”. We applaud the County for actually moving forward with this plan and hope to see a speedy implementation.
Update (09/19/2014): We have heard from FDOT as well. As it turns out we may have good news. We are cautious about this, as we have had FDOT make promises before without however following through. FDOT District 6 will fix the bridges in the Miami area either by way of the plates they have used in the Fort Lauderdale area. The details will have to worked out. In the long run, if a bridge is being replaced or undergoes major construction FDOT will use a concrete deck from what we understand. The original project time line for putting plates on the existing cheese grater bridges was 2018 for a starting date. That was clearly unacceptable though to FDOT’s credit, the person responsible for the bridges thought the same and has promised to fix the first bridges more quickly. Without committing to a fixed date (constructing this appears more complicated than one would have thought), we should see the first bridge (Brickell Avenue) being fixed within the first half of 2015. The project has the support of the district Secretary Gus Pego.
We will keep you posted on what is happening. In the end, such an announcement is very welcome, but the time to celebrate (and thank FDOT for improving the safety for all road users, something we have asked for a long time) comes when the projects are underway.
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