In a city where car culture and cycling culture regularly collide — both literally and figuratively — there are a variety of programs to keep bikers of all ages safe.
Bike crashes and fatalities in Miami-Dade have been steadily on the rise since 2011, when there were nearly 700 crashes and only six fatalities. By 2014, Miami-Dade police reported almost 1,000 crashes and 18 fatalities.
Following the cycling deaths of Aaron Cohen in 2012 and Walter Reyes in January — both training early in the morning on the Rickenbacker Causeway and who were hit by young adult male drivers who either left the scene of the accident or whose blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit — bike safety has taken center stage.
Some programs, like the University of Miami Bike Safe, use a “train the trainer” method, with online modules for teachers to watch before conducting a four-day, off-bike training session.
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Why no bikes in a bike safety program?
Without bikes, there’s no worry of liability for injuries, or maintenance and transportation fees, said Jonathan Hooshmand, BikeSafe program manager.
Instead, students dribble, bounce and pass basketballs in exercises that reinforce important bike safety concepts, like visibility and awareness of your surroundings.
The project chooses schools with a lot of commuting foot traffic and/or a high number of car crashes with cyclists and pedestrians. From 2012 to 2014, the program reached 48 schools and 5,427 children.
BikeSafe also owns 12 bikes that the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department stores and transports. Together, Parks and Rec and BikeSafe hold two-hour courses in campgrounds and public parks.
Malvina Duncan, an injury prevention coordinator for Nicklaus and the Safe Kids coordinator for Miami-Dade County, said the most common helmet misfit is when riders wear the helmet too far back on their head, or in older kids, wearing an unbuckled helmet.
“They fall, they go one way and the helmet goes the other,” she said.
Parents seem to think kids who know how to ride bikes don’t need helmets, Duncan said, but more confident kids take more risks, increasing the importance of a helmet.
Like Bike Safe, Safe Kids offer school presentations and community seminars, but they also hold “Bike Rodeos,” where kids learn to swerve and turn through obstacles, as well as hand signals and the rules of the road.
For toddlers, the rules of riding bikes are even simpler: Don’t.
A recent survey of emergency room visits for tricycle injuries shows that 2-year-olds were injured most often. The study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed that kids on trikes most frequently arrived in ERs with head injuries.
Children under 3 don’t have the developmental skill to ride tricycles, said Dr. Michelle Blumstein, a pediatrician in the ER at Nicklaus. And graduating to bikes on training wheels shouldn’t happen before age 4.
But most important is, of course, the cyclist mantra: Wear a helmet.
“Parents need to lead by example,” she said. “Most of us grew up not wearing helmets.”
Biking in Miami has its own set of challenges.
The signature scorching heat can not only leave cyclists with unseemly sweat stains, but unprepared riders can face dehydration or heat fatigue.
Bike Safe coordinator Matt Cushing suggests riders trying to fit cycling into their commute have a plan: Find a shower at your destination, or a change of clothes. Even Wet Wipes will do in a pinch, he said.
The transition from four wheels to two was easy for Kathryn Moore, an ex-coordinator for Bike Miami, a project begun by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
“I lived here my whole life, and I thought there wasn't a corner left I hadn’t seen,” she said. “Biking is the best way to see Miami.”
But the city can have its downsides. Potholes, like Moore sees near Wynwood, can be dangerous for cyclists.
“If you’re a cyclist, and you’re hugging the curb, and there’s a hole in front of you, you have nowhere to go,” she said. “If you swerve to the left, you’re going to hit the car in the lane.”
Cushing, from Bike Safe, said road choice is paramount.
“You have to get past the habit of thinking of just the main roads for getting around.,” he said. “It might add 30 seconds or a minute to your ride, but it might make your ride a lot more comfortable.”
He also cautions even experienced cyclists to be strategic with their headphone use. Even one earbud reduces a rider’s awareness.
Advocates advise using bike lanes whenever available, but if you’re taking the sidewalk, bikers should act like pedestrians, Moore said: Go slowly and be prepared to stop.
Learning to properly signal helps make drivers aware of your movements, Moore said.
“How frustrated are we when we’re driving and someone doesn’t use their signal?” she said. “It’s so important.”
The No. 1 piece of advice Moore has to offer is to change the height of your seat.
“If you’re knees are up to your chin when you're riding a bike, you’re not getting the power in your pedal,” Moore said. The proper method is “way more fun, and your knees hurt less.”
For beginners brave enough to navigate Miami outside the comfort of air conditioning and an engine, the benefits are many as long as riders stay safe.
“There’s so few barriers to entry now,” Moore said. “You can grab a Citi Bike anywhere and just go and have fun.”
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▪ Avoid headphones; they can reduce a rider’s awareness
▪ Use bike lanes. If riding on sidewalk, go slowly and be prepared to stop.
▪ Use hand signals when making turns
Resources for cyclists:
bikeleague.org/ridesmart has videos, pamphlets and educational programs for adults
bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/BFS2015_Florida.pdf Florida’s yearly bike-friendly ranking
floridabicycle.org/bicycle-traffic-law/ Overview of Florida laws for cyclists
meetup.com/criticalmass-40/events/ Emerge Miami offers free group cycling events every second Saturday of the month
themiamibikescene.com A list of nearly every group bike ride in greater Miami