Drivers on the Rickenbacker Causeway may have noticed increased police activity on the roadway these past few weeks.
That’s because the Miami-Dade County, Miami and Key Biscayne police departments are working together to better enforce traffic laws, change driving behaviors and reduce fatalities on the causeway.
Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press announced the partnership and a new traffic safety initiative at a Town Hall meeting in the council chambers last week.
“The only way to reshape and modify behavior on the causeway is to do strict enforcement,” Press said. “The idea is to reduce the number of tragedies on the causeway.”
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The traffic safety initiative consists of enforcement and education components.
Since the first week of March, all three departments have conducted saturation patrols during peak hours in the mornings and afternoons on the Rickenbacker. There will possibly be more DUI checkpoints on the Rickenbacker in the future. Police found four people driving under the influence during February’s sobriety checkpoint on the Rickenbacker.
As for the education component, Key Biscayne police officers will hand out traffic safety and drunk driving pamphlets to drivers within the village.
Press hopes to buy a DUI simulator with grant money or forfeiture dollars for parents and young drivers to use. The Key Biscayne Police Department will also partner with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and visit the Key Biscayne K-8 to speak to students going into high school about driving under the influence.
“We have to reach more parents and young people,” Press said.
Press hopes more parents and young adults will attend future town hall meetings and contribute to discussions taking place about cyclist, driver and pedestrian safety on the causeway. He also emphasized that the problem is not just with one group and that the three police departments are working to protect everyone who uses the causeway.
“This is about everybody,” he said. “It’s all about changing behavior and making everyone aware that each of us plays a role in making the causeway safe for everyone.”
The traffic safety initiative is in a 90-day trial period. After the three months, the three police departments will regroup, evaluate what worked and what needs improvement, and decide what to do next.
Representatives from the county and city of Miami attended the town hall meeting to discuss goals, show support and answer questions from Key Biscayne residents.
Deputy Miami-Dade County Mayor Russell Benford said the county will stay engaged with the traffic safety initiative and is dedicated to working together.
“Whatever assistance we can provide, we’ll be here,” Benford said.
Miami-Dade County Special Patrol Bureau Major Thomas “Pat” Hanlon and Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said enforcement and education are important to safety on the road.
“We’re making sure to pool our resources to send the message about traffic safety,” Llanes said.
About 20 residents attended the meeting and expressed concerns over issues ranging from groups of bike riders taking over traffic lanes on the causeway to speeding in village residential areas.
Key Biscayne resident Cindy Mize was running on the Rickenbacker early one morning when she noticed a group of cyclists coming toward her at high speed.
“I ended up in the bushes,” she said.
Mize said she feels strongly about safety for all users of the Rickenbacker and that the multi-department traffic initiative is a great step.
Jean Philippe Houlzet of Key Biscayne was the only underage person to attend the meeting.
Houlzet, 17, attends Gulliver Preparatory Academy and said his father made him attend. He said he went mostly to learn about the DUI and cyclist issues.
“Education is the biggest key,” he said. “I don’t know how much impact enforcement will have. Education can have a more lasting, positive impact.”