My 12-year-old daughter, bicycling with her dad and sister on the sidewalks of Coconut Grove last weekend, was nearly run down by a car when it tried to turn off of McFarlane Road into a parking lot. The car waited for other cars to go by before gunning it across the street, but didn't bother to look for or yield to casual bikers and walkers on the sidewalk. The older woman driving the car slammed on her brakes at the last minute to avoid hitting my daughter.
The scary bike-vs.-car scenario plays out in my head every time my kids ask if they can go cycling through our neighborhood. Riding a bike is a rite of passage for kids. It's healthy. It's green. It encourages independence and exploration. Yet it's also a roulette game in Miami, which ranks near the top nationally for bicycle and pedestrian fatality rates.
To steal and twist a line from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, "If they're killing cyclists, then my children are targets … I want to get out of this town."
It's hard to look at those bikes in our hallway without thinking of 6-year-old Jacob Shaked, who suffered head trauma and broken bones last year after a driver crushed him and his bike just 10 houses from his home in Sunny Isles before driving off, leaving the child lying in the street with his mangled training wheels.
Or the hit-and-run death of 36-year-old Aaron Cohen, the father of two who was struck from behind while riding on the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne on Feb. 15, the same day 32-year-old Thomas Jennings was broadsided and seriously injured on Fountainebleau Boulevard in West Miami-Dade by a speeding, out-of-control car that jumped the median.
Ten days later, a 60-year-old woman was killed in a hit-and-run as she tried to walk across a street just south of Doral.
Wait, I'm not done.
On the same weekend my daughter had her bike mishap, South Florida cyclists rode slowly through Kendall to remember Miguel Rocafort, 51, a family man and avid cyclist who was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Southwest Miami-Dade on March 31 and died five days later as a result of his injuries.
The same weekend University of Miami freshman Eliza Gresh, 19, lay in a coma, the result of a hit-and-run on April 27 as she tried to cross South Dixie Highway on foot.
If that's not an epidemic of violence, with cars as the weapon, I don't know what is. In 2009, the most recent year with reliable statistics, 69 pedestrians were killed in Miami-Dade County, according to Green Mobility Network, a cycling advocacy group that has started a SafeStreetsMiami campaign to build respect and consideration for all users of Miami's streets. The most vulnerable groups: children and the elderly.
Blame it on nonexistent or inadequate sidewalks, street crossings and bike lanes. Blame it on too many multi-lane roads designed for high auto speeds. Blame it on a culture of entitlement and ignorance about the laws among Miami drivers.
Regardless, as parents, it's our duty to teach our kids the rules of the road – as safe bikers and future safe drivers. The primary message we all need to remember: It's legal for bikers to occupy the full lane of a road if it's too narrow to be shared safely by a bicycle and a car and there's no traffic lane set aside for bikes.
Doesn't matter if you're late for the most important meeting of your life. Doesn't matter if you're not a fan of those tight biker shorts.
Drivers must wait and trail behind the bikes until it's safe to pass at least three feet from the cyclists.
As a reminder, Miami has begun posting "Bikes May Use Full Lane'' signs. They're part of a multi-year plan for miles of new bicycle lanes and shared, on-street bikeways. Look for the bright yellow signs coming to a street near you.
And, please, look for my 12-year-old daughter on her bike, too.