Currently viewing the tag: "Police"

A Transit Miami tipster sent us these photos of Miami Police officers parking in the bicycle lane and sidewalk on South Miami Avenue in Brickell for an urgent emergency - a break at Smoothie King. Our source tells us that the cruisers even had their flashing lights on. This was taken at 5:30 pm on October 3rd, just as rush-hour reaches full swing and the motorists in Brickell are aggressive as ever, bullying their way through pedestrians in crosswalks on their march to I-95. Maybe they could be handing out some tickets and warnings instead?

At least they could keep one of Brickell’s only bicycle lanes clear while they enjoy their break.

2 police cruisers blocking the bike lane with lights on? Must be an emergency unfolding nearby!

Nope. Just a smoothie break across the street.

Tell Miami Police Cheif Manuel Orosa ( that this behavior is unacceptable, especially given the tragically high level of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities in Miami.

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Thanks to Ruben van Hooidonk who sent us this picture of epic bicycle lane blockage during his bike commute on the Rickenbacker Causeway this morning. This picture was taken on Virginia Key in front of Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, just after the Miami Seaquarium.

Busses using the bicycle lane as parking on the dangerous Rickenbacker Causeway.

At the last Miami-Dade County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Meeting, the police revealed that they have used helicopter surveillance to document the behavior of cyclists on the Rickenbacker. Perhaps they should keep their choppers on the ground and pay attention to the bike lane instead if they are seriously concerned about safety for all road users.

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A recent Sun Sentinel investigative report revealed deeply disturbing data on police driving behavior on South Florida roads. The three-part series investigated an idea that many south Floridians already believed to be true - police officers sworn to uphold the law are amongst the worst speeders on our roads and are not held accountable for their behavior, even when deadly. The data the Sun Sentinel revealed is a telling story of entitlement, danger, tragedy and a nauseatingly pervasive, dysfunctional culture.

By collecting data from SunPass Records, the Sun Sentinel reporters gathered a stunning array of unnerving facts, including:

Since 2004, Florida officers exceeding the speed limit have caused at least 320 crashes and 19 deaths. Only one officer went to jail — for 60 days.

The three-month investigation found almost 800 cops from a dozen agencies driving 90 to 130 mph on our highways.

Miami officers were among the most chronic speeders, with 143 of them driving over 90 mph — all outside city limits. More than 50 Miami cops broke 100 mph — one more than 100 times.

Data via the Sun Sentinel

What struck me about the investigation was that it only took SunPass data into account - meaning only highway driving was measured. The nuisance and danger speeding drivers (civilians and police) represent on our on our local and secondary roadways is well-known to South Floridians - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.

Take for example the Miami officer that inexplicably managed to drive up a utility pole on a quiet neighborhood street earlier in December. Many in our community laughed and shrugged it off as a bizarre accident. I wasn’t so quick to chuckle. This example of negligence and monumental stupidity are the type of things that erode public confidence towards police departments.

No caption necessary.

The investigation challenges another myth that pervades in South Florida - that we’re known as ‘terrible drivers’ because of our diverse citizenry importing driving habits from around the globe. While there may be elements of truth to that claim, it is not the sole reason the particular brand of driving in South Florida often resembles a demolition derby.

Take the ‘broken window’ theory into consideration. Coined by Kees Keizer of the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands, Keizer’s research focused on the idea that witnessing disorder and petty criminal behavior leads people to perpetuate such actions. (Like how broken windows on a vacant house invite litter, graffiti, etc.)

On South Florida roads, the ‘broken windows’ and litter are represented by the speeding police officers that pass you at 110 mph, screech around corners, roar through intersections, drive up poles and run over innocent beachgoers lying on the sand.

Earlier in November, two Miami Police officers were involved in separate crashes while responding to the same scene.

This type of behavior by police trusted to uphold the law has a ‘trickle down’ effect, meaning average citizens eventually feel entitled to speed without repercussion, perpetuating the behavior they observe daily from the police. Who’s enforcing anything? The risk seems small. Combine this collective mentality with urban roads like Biscayne Boulevard designed with suburban design standards that practically encourage speeding, and you have a recipe for the motoring chaos we see everyday.

Three basic ways to begin addressing the anarchy on our roads is enforcement, education and infrastructure (traffic calming). Sadly, enforcement has to begin within our own police departments on a broad scale.

Though perhaps we reached the tipping point today - Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa was involved in a car crash that sent a person to the hospital this afternoon.

I think I am having deja vu, another pedestrian was struck and killed by a Miami-Dade Police officer in Southwest Dade yesterday. Details have not been released, reports the Herald. Because this involves a police officer, and not an NFL player, we may not hear anything more aboutthe incident.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade School Police are enforcing the school area speed limit, at least in a few select locations. In just five days, officers in the Agressive Drivers unit handed out 642 tickets. While this is an important step for creating more livable streets and safe routes to schools for our children, one wishes that these periodic crackdowns would become routine. Civilizing the streets of Miami-Dade will remain a challenge until motor vehicle laws are consistently enforced. Perhaps we should start with those who are suppossed to be setting an example and following these laws: the police.

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The Miami Herald reports 67-year old Jose Munoz was struck and tragically killed by a Miami-Dade Police Officer while trying to cross Southwest 344th Street. Munoz heroically pushed his wife out of the way but was unable to avoid the oncoming car.

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Everyone’s familiar with the rules for bicyclists riding on the road in Florida, right? OK, check the Florida Statutes section 316.2065 for a quick refresher. I’m especially thinking of part 5(a), which spells out when a bicyclist is allowed to “take the lane.” Commute by Bike and Carectomy had some discussion of this issue recently, and their respective posts are worth checking out. My preference is along the lines of Carectomy’s stance, taking the lane when needed. I’m not going to go into all the benefits of taking the lane that they mention, but I wanted to focus on the legality.

From part 5(a), the third situation where bicyclists are not required to ride “as close as practicable to the right” is:

3.  When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, or substandard-width lane, that makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

So you can take the lane when you have a narrow lane, right? As a roadway designer, the first thing that comes to mind for a standard lane width is 12 feet. But that last sentence in the law makes the difference. It is not referring to a 12-foot lane, but a lane wide enough for bicycles and cars to share. I used to believe this included 12 foot lanes, as they seem fairly wide; but I have been enlightened.

Last week I attended classes in bicycle and pedestrian facility design taught by Michael Moule, president of the engineering firm Livable Streets, Inc. He clarified that a substandard-width lane for the purposes of this statute meant anything less than 14 feet wide. Agencies only build 14-foot wide lanes when they are specifically trying to accommodate bicycles and the road cannot be widened enough for a 4-foot bicycle lane. FDOT does not really even do that any more, preferring to stripe out a 3-foot “urban shoulder” next to an 11-foot lane if a bicycle lane cannot be built. (Unless it’s District 6 building Alton Road…) Most roads have lanes narrower than 14 feet. So bicyclists are legally entitled to take the entire lane if they so choose.

Think about the reasoning behind the 14 feet. You need at least 8 feet of lane width for a car. (That’s the narrowest parking lane width allowed, so it should be 9 feet for a moving vehicle—but we’ll say 8.) Florida Statute 316.083 states that motorists must pass bicycles at least 3 feet away. It’s safe to assume we need another 3 feet for the bicycle with a rider. Add it up and you need a 14-foot lane for bicyclists and automobiles to safely travel side by side. 

Tell that to the next cop who tries to tell you to ride farther right! Someone even recommended carrying a pocket copy of the Florida statutes to show them. Anyone know where to find those?

Photo by Flickr user richardmasoner.

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I live next to a busy intersection in South Beach - Meridian Avenue and 13th Street. It’s the main entryway to Flamingo Park as well as the beach’s central avenue. It’s the only tree-shaded roadway around. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of traffic: cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Within the past few months, four-way stop signs went up at the intersection, making it significantly safer, or so I thought. One of the stop signs is all but hidden behind a tree. Cars blow past it all the time. This is doubly dangerous considering pedestrians now assume cars will stop at the intersection. There are people pushing baby strollers to the park, little kids going to shoot hoops, people walking their dogs.

I emailed the city to point out the problem. There had been small temporary stop signs in the middle of the road until recently, and I suggested they do something similar on a permanent basis or at least make the hidden stop sign more visible. Never heard back.

Walking home one night, I came across two Miami Beach motorcycle cops. They were there to run down cars that rolled through the stop sign. I told them people couldn’t see the sign, but they argued there is a warning sign farther back (small red octagon with arrow) and nothing that could be done. When I emphasized the inherent danger, one of the cops said pedestrians should be “alert” anyway.

So, I’ve contacted the county’s public works department. They tell me they’ll check it out. In the meantime, I have a strong feeling someone is going to get hurt or killed. I hope I’m wrong.

Alright, I know it’s long overdue but here is my awaited and (hopefully) anticipated part 3 to my most recent walk through downtown:

I continued my walk into the CBD with this view of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. I’ve posted this picture below to not only show the hideous temporary fencing that has been surrounding the courthouse for the better part of the past couple of years, but to also show the actual picture I was taking when the first of two interesting events occurred this afternoon.

As I crossed the street after taking this picture, a subject caught crossing the street in the photograph was patiently waiting for me on the north side of Flagler (Where’s Waldo?) Now, allow me to pause a second to describe this character. I’m no stylist but, I’m conscious enough to realize that she was wearing far too many layers of makeup under Jackie-o sunglasses. She was also wearing dark leggings under open-toed shoes, far out of the ordinary even for the cast of characters which typically roam along our downtown streets. My conversation with the deranged lady (DL) went as follows after she flagged me down and pulled me out of my own tranquil universe:

GJL: Yes, may I help you?

DL: Do you work for the government?

GJL: No…

DL: Do you work for a private company?

GJL: Um, Yeah.

DL: Why did you take a picture of me?

GJL: Excuse me?

DL: Why did you take a picture of me just now as I crossed the street?

GJL: In case you didn’t notice ma’am, you were standing in front of one our downtown’s most prominent and historic structures.

DL: I saw you! You took a picture of me and I want to know why!

GJL: Okay, you’re crazy and I’m walking away now…

I proceeded north further into the courthouse district with my ipod and in search of further urban opportunity. As I glanced back I witnessed my new friend darting from empty police car to empty police car before she decided to follow me. I turned west to get a shot of a “Your Tax Dollars at Waste sign” as she continued following me. Lucky for us, there was an occupied police car between me and her, where she was able to pause and discuss my alleged paparazzi activity (which would have been completely legal, in any case.) Obviously nothing came of her police inquiry as I walked by the squad car and received a wave and almost apologetic smirk from the officer…

I trudged on North towards the courthouse complex and MDC and into the scene of my next extremely odd encounter. Along the way I saw further reminders of the second largest diamond district in the United States. The r&r Jewlery Center is housed in the former downtown post office, was built in 1912 and was the first major federal building to rise in Miami.

You just don’t encounter unique ornamentation like this anymore. There are few buildings which even attempt to add adequate ornamentation, let alone art in public places.

I came across a stunning building in the CBD. I’ve read about it the downtown development authority’s historical walking guide to downtown, but I forgot who it was owned by and when it was built. I’d like to note however, the covered portico, the ground level retail, the sense of some human-oriented planning. The building was obviously designed at a time when pedestrians were still kept in mind and should serve as a model for our future urban infill considering it adequately addressed the pedestrian needs given our hot and often rainy climate.

I continued on towards the federal courthouses and MDC campus. After reading William Whyte’s Project for Public Places, I was anxious to experience the public places established in our federal courthouse complex and major downtown educational facility. The interaction between the federal courthouses and the street is awkward and downright hostile to pedestrians. A large “temporary” concrete barrier keeps cars (and pedestrians) far enough away from the surroundings and the barren concrete plaza of MDC depicts accurately how successful our urban plaza planning has been.

Standing on the sidewalk (public property) from the MDC side of the street (Public School,) I proceeded to take the pictures depicted above. As I happily snapped away, still listening to my ipod, a couple of rent-a-cops from across the street on the federal courthouse began to flail their arms at me frantically. As I removed my earphones they were yelling to stop taking pictures of the federal courthouse. Now, this happened to me once before about two years ago, so I had an eerie feeling that things hadn’t changed since. I was with some visiting family walking around the CBD, snapping pictures of the newly rising federal complex, when we were apprehended by the same rent-a-cop currently yelling at me. That time however, he stepped out of line and reached for my younger cousin’s camera, prompting near chaos because of his inadequate training and general concept of what is truly legal. In any case, knowing I was within my full right to continue photographing the public complex, I continued snapping away, including this picture of the so called security:

I continued my walking tour heading east on the metromover to experience the Biscayne boulevard realignment project.

I continued walking west along NE 5th street, witnessing the absurd amount of shipping container traffic when I was nearly run over by what originally appeared to be an undercover police officer. As I disclosed earlier, it ended up being a US Marshall, apparently sent to find the rogue kid walking around in shorts taking pictures of downtown buildings. Our conversation went something like this, with my thoughts in parenthesis:

GJL: Good Afternoon, I’m Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal of, what can I help you with today?

USM: Hey, how’s it going? I’m US Marshall (name omitted out of personal courtesy.) Were you just over by the federal courthouse taking pictures?

GJL: Yes, I was and as far as I know that isn’t a violation of any current or past US laws.

USM: Oh, no, not at all sir. We just like to know who everyone is taking pictures around the federal courthouse.

GJL: Speaking of that, I see your undercover car and gun, but may I see some credentials to verify that you are who you say you are, you can never be too sure in today’s world.

USM: Sure. (Show’s US Marshall Badge and ID Card)

USM: May I see your Drivers’ License to verify your name? What was the name of your website again?

GJL: Sure. (Provide him with my ID)… Check it out, the pictures I took will be up there soon…Now, as far as I know, I’m within every right standing on the public sidewalk to photograph my surroundings, correct?

USM: Correct. You just have to understand sir in this new state of security (insecurity) in the United States; we can never be too secure. Just the other day, we had someone taking counter-surveillance shots of our prisoner movements (Buuuuuuuullshit) from the metrorail platform.

GJL: Oh, I understand sir. I guess it may be a matter of national security (insecurity) to chase down people who snap pictures of the federal complex. Is this a common occurrence for the US Marshall to chase down tourists in the CBD for taking pictures?

(I then realized the US Marshall was writing my driver’s license down on a pad of paper, something which I never gave him permission to do considering he never asked to write it down. I was naturally offended because he asked for my ID to write down my name but then violated my confidence in his ability to obtain only the information he had asked for.)

USM: Well it happens often enough…

GJL: Excuse me officer, but I don’t believe it is necessary for you to write down my License number as well as my name, we have both determined that I was within every right to take pictures. I provided you with my ID and granted you permission to jot down my name and would have gladly obliged to give you my license number had you asked…

USM: Oh, don’t worry sir; you aren’t in any trouble…

GJL: I’m fully aware I’m not, we both clarified that no law was broken (you, just plan on running a background check on me…)

USM: Thank you very much for your time sir. Have a nice day and enjoy your stay here in Miami

Lovely. I couldn’t possibly imagine that I would have been apprehended by a US Marshall in the downtown of my own city for taking some innocent pictures with a point and shoot digital camera. I bit my tongue and chose to not point it out to the US Marshall that from the comfort of my own home I or anyone else can obtain aerial images of the complex by navigating through Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Imagine the mayhem that would be caused if such extreme measures were taken around the federal buildings of NYC, Washington DC, or any other major US city. It’s just another example of a mental lapse on the part of the local rent-a-cop authority hired to protect the federal complex from reasonable threats…

Lucky for me my encounter wasn’t with a city of Miami police officer, officers who have been known to violate the first amendment rights of photographers standing on public sidewalks and not obstructing justice. Unlike Carlos Miller, whose trial began today, I was lucky enough to not have been pummeled to the ground for no apparent reason…

Disgruntled enough I continued my tour north into the omni complex, which will appear in the conclusion and part 4 of this series…

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