Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Bad Week for Florida Cyclists

April 17th, 2011 marks the end of a particular violent week for South Florida cyclists, as details continue to emerge from the latest accident today on the MacArthur causeway, initial reports were that one of the 2 cyclists that were struck this morning had died. Sources continue to confirm that the unfortunate outcome of today's accident is a cyclist fatality.

During this past week, there have be at least 8 reported accidents involving cyclists and vehicles, and even though many details are still unclear from the different cases, the fact still remains that riding a bicycle in Miami gets more dangerous by the day.

Herein lies the problem, as we see a bike sharing program successfully grow in Miami Beach, and the sheer number of people riding bikes in Miami continues to grow, some may argue that the increase in cars to bike accidents is a direct result to the growing number of cyclists on the road. While some may fall into the numbers game trap, the figures show that a greater number of bicyclists on the road should actually result in safer conditions.

So, what seems to be the problem? I believe that the issue is more complex and multidimensional than just numbers. I have spent the better part of the past 3 years riding my bike to and from work at least 2 times a week and in the 10 miles each way that I travel on my bike, I have had the opportunity to see the city from a different point of view. I have discovered new picturesque streets, ridden by beautiful parks, explored new routes and gone through some pretty cool South Florida thunderstorms, commuting by bike not only makes you feel better, it makes you a better driver as well.

During these rides, I have developed a golden rule to keep me safe and ultimately alive; if cannot make eye contact with the driver who's car I am about to pass, cross, or ride in front of, I simply don't do it. One of the biggest limitations to this rule is, tinted windows and the second one is that drivers are simply not watching the road. It is nothing short of flabbergasting and infuriating to see the sheer amount of motorists who are looking down at their cell phones while they drive. I do realize, however, that eye contact can only happen when I am about to cross a street of ride in front of a vehicle and cannot control what's coming from behind, which is 99% of the traffic we interact with, and so, we take a leap of faith and hope that those drivers who overtake us from behind are actually looking ahead and watching the road. Wishful thinking, I know.

So in the end, the main determining factor from a safe commute to an unfortunate statistic in South Florida is, luck. Quite an unfortunate conclusion, considering that we are talking about human to human interaction, but there is little hope when we hear cases like 22 year old Michael Martin who was hit by a car whose driver returned to the scene and a couple of passengers got out of the car to look at the victim laying on the ground only to get back on the vehicle and leave the scene while Michael died as a result of his injuries. What kind of animal does something like this?

I have been yelled at, honked at, startled, assaulted with objects thrown from vehicles and insulted in some internet forums for encouraging bike riding and advocating cyclist safety, this of course only strengthens my spirit and motivates me to carry on, but it is a very sad commentary on the community we live in.

My thoughts and prayers go to the family and friends of today's fatality as we close one of the worst weeks for cyclists in South Florida, and now more than ever, it is our responsibility as cyclists and pedestrians to carry on with our message and speak as loud and often as we can to bring change to our streets.

Change will come, there is no doubt about it, the question is, how many more cyclists and pedestrians need to die before our elected officials and public employees recognize that progress will happen with or without them?