I still remember when I first learned how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. It was tiny, and orange. This is one of my first memories, if not the first. I learned away from traffic, at a dirty soccer field, somewhere in Tarragona, Spain. Ever since, I have been in love with bicycles, always my preferred mode of transportation, and not just because it is good for the environment.
Fast forward three decades, give or take, and a handful of bicycles later.
I now work in the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of the magic city of Miami, Coconut Grove. That, until later this year, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, where I work, moves from its current historic location across from Villa Vizcaya to its new location downtown, next to the Perez Art Museum Miami, in Museum Park. My daily one way commute is a little over two miles long, and it usually takes me no more than ten minutes to complete. Just short enough for me to not break a sweat given the often warm temperatures and relative high humidity of Miami. Needless to say, despite of the longer commute, my plan is to keep riding my bicycle to work once we move.
It has been two years since I moved to Miami, and while I have had several close encounters with drivers, of the kind you do not want to have, I have only been hit out of my bike once. An old lady in a blue hatchback that did not look for bikes when turning right hit me on Tigertail Avenue. Neither my bike nor I suffered significantly. The old lady, on the other hand, had a mild panic attack I helped her with. All good.
Tigertail Avenue runs parallel to Bayshore Drive, and both are filled with dozens of recreational cyclists during the week, and hundreds during the weekend, on their way to Key Biscayne to complete one of the most popular recreational bike routes in Miami. What I do not see many of is cyclists commuting to work like me, even though it is on the way to Brickell and Downtown. In any case, in this area, drivers are used to see cyclists on the road they share, which makes it safer. Alas, accidents still happen.
Florida has one of the worst ratings for bicycling safety in the nation, and so does Miami-Dade. In 2014, fifteen cyclists were killed in almost 1,000 reported traffic accidents across the county. That is unacceptable.
The county must tie bicycle infrastructure to street infrastructure and development projects to start building a better environment for all of us out there. Something that has worked elsewhere is, for instance, the execution of bicycle boulevards, a type of bikeway composed of a low speed street which has been optimized for bicycle traffic. Of course, this can only happen once cycling is truly recognized as a legitimate transportation alternative rather than just a recreational pursuit. In 2011, for example, less than 1% of all trips to work in Miami were on a bicycle. This percentage increases up to 6% in Miami Beach, though, where people that live and work in the coastal resort city face a less intimidating and more bicycle friendly arena.
I was happy to see Miami get its bike sharing and rental system a couple of years ago. The program provides both locals and visitors with an additional transportation option for getting around the city. Bike sharing is fun, efficient, and convenient, but it is also useless if, as a cyclist, one does not feel welcomed on the road.
There are also small things we cyclists can do to facilitate this conversation, and make our roads safer, one small gesture at a time. Interacting with other road users is a dance we lead. The better we are at communicating and operating predictably, the better the dance. I do my best by showing respect both for them and myself, and being proactive at making everyone’s life easier, including (as one would expect) mine. Of course, every now and then, as a cyclist, you will be passed by a jerk who yells or honks, and ignores safe passing laws. When someone does, I let it go. I smile and wave (with all five fingers, rather than just the one), and roll on with my life. My favorite, though, is when they get stuck in traffic shortly after they pass me, and I get to wave at them again.
In the end, this is, of course, part of a larger issue. That of public transportation. Better, safer, cleaner, and more on time and widely used public transportation that frees the roads of some cars. Cycling just happen to be my preferred way to move around. I dream with a city in which driving, rather than the norm, becomes just an option; and in which an integral public transportation strategy makes it easier for the city, and its diverse communities, to thrive.