Miami-Dade County

Her husband was hit by a car. Now she's pushing to make streets safer for bicyclists

Bicyclists leave flowers at a ghost bike memorial on the Rickenbacker Causeway, where cyclist Christopher Le Canne was killed by a drunken driver.
Bicyclists leave flowers at a ghost bike memorial on the Rickenbacker Causeway, where cyclist Christopher Le Canne was killed by a drunken driver. Miami Herald Staff

There’s a war between motorists and cyclists inflaming our streets.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava wants to make peace.

But how in a city where drivers are wedded to their cars and treat anyone on a bike or on foot as an impediment? Where discourteous cyclists hog the pavement? Where a network of protected bike lanes doesn’t exist? Where nobody — not even police — understands that the No. 1 rule of the road is to share it?

Levine Cava wants to break through the stalemate that buries the county at or near the bottom of national rankings of bicycle and pedestrian safety. In the first three months of 2018, there were 245 crashes involving pedestrians and vehicles, and 17 pedestrians died. During the same period, 136 bike crashes resulted in four fatalities. In the three years since 2015, there were a total of 7,360 crashes and a total of 294 deaths.

Levine Cava has created the Dead Serious Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee in an effort to reduce accidents and fatalities, inform everyone on the road of their rights and responsibilities, and improve the county’s bike infrastructure.

“We’re very serious; we’re dead serious,” she said. “We’ve got to build the public will necessary for lasting change.”

Levine Cava is a cyclist and she was motivated to do something about the county’s dangerous streets when her husband — a frequent bike commuter — was hit and injured by a driver who left the scene.

“He might not recover full use of the arm that was broken,” she said. “The experience helped me understand first-hand what cyclists and pedestrians endure on a regular basis.”

Levine Cava’s goal is to bring all stakeholders — drivers, cyclists, walkers, runners, police officers and transportation planners — to the table to share their points of view on the problem and how to solve it.

“This committee has a chance at making a significant difference because it is all-inclusive,” said Sue Kawalerski, Everglades Bicycle Club president and a committee member. “As a driver I’m fearful around cyclists because I never know when one might dart in front of me. As a cyclist I’m fearful around drivers because I never know when a distracted one might plow into me.

“So we have the same concerns. Instead of thinking, ‘That’s my space,’ everyone needs to respect each other’s right to the road. That sounds lofty, but if we can teach people the laws, they can become more tolerant and change their behavior. I don’t think everybody wakes up wanting to be a jerk and looking to harm someone.”

daniella levine cava 2017
Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava Peter Andrew Bosch Miami Herald 2014 file photo

The police can do their part. Too often, they don’t know the rules of the road and wind up citing cyclists, which is why Kawalerski’s club members have taken to carrying copies of the laws with them.

“What we see is everyone angry at each other because they don’t understand each other,” said Miami-Dade Sgt. Rob McGrath. “To bridge the gap between motorists and the bike community, a multitude of things need to happen and one of the most critical is that police need to know how to properly enforce the law.”

McGrath participated in the first meeting of Levine Cava’s committee and advocated for the creation of a computer-based training course that can be used by police departments throughout the county.

“We definitely could use more training,” McGrath said. “In preparing my presentation I learned a great deal about cyclists’ rights and I’m a very traffic-oriented officer. It was eye-opening for me and I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”

The ultimate way to prevent friction and contact between motorists and cyclists is to separate them. It’s way past time for Miami to catch up with many of the world’s major cities and build protected and connected bike lanes.

If New York City — which has built an average of 54 miles of bike lanes every year since 2007 — can do it, why not Miami? In cities that have improved their bike infrastructure, cyclist deaths and injuries have declined even as cycling rates have soared.

“We’re going to see more and more users of our roads and more reliance on bikes for mobility,” Levine Cava said. “Cycling needs to be viewed as essential and not just recreational.”

Building a bike lane network is expensive but transformative, especially in a place like Miami, where traffic congestion has become unbearable. County, city and state planners as well as business and homeowners along routes would have to support improvements, Kawalerski said.

“Our leaders have shown no will here except to put down more pavement,” she said. “You could build a complete bike lane network for the same cost of building a couple new roads that only add to our traffic problems.”

The Dead Serious committee is also discussing with the business community incentives that could train people to be better drivers. For example, drivers who take an online safety course would earn discounts on their insurance premium or when they buy a car or take it in for service.

Other ideas centered on education: Teaching bike and pedestrian safety in driver’s ed courses and testing for it on the state exam; expanding safe cycling skills courses in schools and parks; and distributing informative fliers at auto tag agencies.

“Everyone needs to get on board,” McGrath said. “Not just cops. Not just drivers. Not just cyclists. Everyone who shares our roads.”