This is a community commentary by Eli Stiers:
Here we go again. I cannot believe that I am writing about the death of another cyclist on Key Biscayne. I can hardly summon the strength to repeat the words that have all been said before, in 2006, 2010, and 2012. This isn’t déjà vu. This is a recurring nightmare.
First and foremost, our condolences to the family of Walter Reyes, and our prayers are with Henry Hernandez for a speedy recovery.
Miami has suffered another loss of another prominent, upstanding citizen, with another seriously injured. Another “accident” involving an *allegedly* drunk 20-something, quite possibly driving back to the Key after a night out. Shades of Michele Traverso and Carlos Bertonatti before him. Another family in mourning. Another flood of complaints for local officials. Another bout of anxiety for Miami cyclists.
To say that this latest tragedy was avoidable is the mother of all understatements. Anyone who has paid even a passing interest to Transit Miami knows that we have written about this. Time and time and time again.
The problems with the Rickenbacker are well known. The solutions are equally apparent. Years ago, our County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) suggested common sense changes for implementation by the County’s Public Works and Waste Management Department. Renowned architect Bernard Zyscovich has even laid out an attractive, comprehensive plan, the details of which have been freely shared with the County four years ago, to use as they see fit.
The time to address these obvious concerns has long-since passed, and while we can do nothing to prevent people from making the terrible decision to drink and get behind the wheel, we absolutely can make modest investments to improve the infrastructure on the most popular stretch of roadway for outdoor enthusiasts in Miami – an area where cyclists outnumber cars on any given weekend.
Miami’s vocal and active cycling community has played its part. We have signed petitions. We have organized far too many memorial rides. We have held meetings and public forums. We have pleaded with our County leaders. We re-wrote Florida law to better protect cyclists and other vulnerable road users from hit-and-run drivers through the implementation of the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act.
But advocacy alone cannot fix the underlying problems that continue to threaten the lives of Miamians who bike the Rickenbacker Causeway, every day, for recreation and exercise. The time for our officials to heed the repeated warnings given to them by the cycling community has passed. The time to act has long-since passed, and in light of yet another tragic death, in a strikingly similar set of circumstances, this rises to the level of being an emergency.
Because you can expect more deaths. Cyclists will continue to ride the Rickenbacker. We will be out there tomorrow morning, without fail, and we will be out there every day from here on out. We have too few options for cycling in Miami, and the allure of this six-mile stretch of roadway, cutting a wide swath through Biscayne Bay and connecting city dwellers of a growing concrete jungle with tropical paradise, is simply too much to ignore. Moreover, as the City grows, so will the numbers of people on bikes – which is a good thing!
This is the tipping point.
Without question, the County has made enormous gains towards developing a more bike-friendly Miami since Transit Miami first began shedding a light on these problems years ago. We have miles of bike lanes, where we once had none. We have a bike-share program that the City has heavily invested in. The Underline appears to have a chance. There is hope.
As for the Rickenbacker, I have sat in numerous meeting with County Commissioners and County Public Works officials who are coming to realize the immense value in reimagining the Rickenbacker Causeway as more like a linear urban park, and less like the high-speed freeway that it appears like today. The benefits of a protected bike path, narrower lanes of travel, and a reduced speed limit have been acknowledged.
But change is happening much too slowly, and the risks continue to be imminent and deadly. Furthermore, while change to the Rickenbacker is the most obvious and pressing need, it is largely symbolic of a problem that is County-wide; namely, that the public’s need for better and safer ped/bike infrastructure is rapidly outpacing the actions of the County to address the need. This latest tragedy was predictable, and is but a microcosm of a much larger problem. More lives will be lost if we do not act, and act now.
The risks inherent in allowing cars to drive 45 mph within feet of a growing number of cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts is obvious. The continued failure to address these concerns borders on reckless indifference to the lives of those who simply want to enjoy being outdoors in our fair City. It is no longer responsible to pursue incremental change. Widespread change is needed, and it is needed now.
Mayor Gimenez and County Commissioners, we challenge you to fix the Rickenbacker. Not in ten years. Not in five years. Now. Before more lives are lost.
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