She is one of the best drivers I know when it comes to ensure cyclists’ safety in Miami. She is because her husband is a cyclist, and one that is constantly pointing out to her all the obvious and not so obvious things Miami drivers do and not do that either facilitate or impede everyone’s safety on the road. When arriving to an intersection, for example, she is sure not to obstruct the way of any incoming cyclist. At intersections, cyclists with the right of way find themselves often juggling between those moving with them, and those anxiously trying to merge in. Recently, she was stopped at an intersection just waiting for that, when, to her surprise, a cyclist with enough room to roll in front of her, slammed the hood of her car and vehemently curse at her. Let me tell you, she was upset, and so was I when she shared the incident with me, her husband.
I ride my bicycle everywhere, rain or shine, in the morning or after dark. I have been in love with them, always my preferred mode of transportation, since I was a kid. I am both a bicycle commuter and a recreational cyclist, and I have spent long hours on my bicycle when training for triathlons. Ask me about any past life event, and something I will always remember is the bicycle I was riding at the time.
Transit is one of South Florida’s more substantial challenges, and both the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County are dedicated to create a more bicycle friendly environment as part of their strategy to overcome the difficult task. In 2012—go figure—Miami was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a Bronze Bicycle Friendly City, but certainly there is still a lot of work to do. It should be our elected official’s goal to continue to expand bicycle infrastructure, and create accessible and safe streets and paths for riders of all ages.
While somehow indeterminate in their essence, two detailed current efforts are proof of this commitment, the Miami Bicycle Master Plan and the Miami-Dade 2040 Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan. The former secured the Bicycle Friendly City status in 2012, and serves as a guide for the staggered development of bicycle infrastructure over a twenty year period until 2030. The latter’s vision is to enhance the accessibility, safety, public health, social equity, environment, and overall quality of life within the county by creating interconnected bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities throughout. Projects such as The Underline‘s 10-mile linear park below Miami’s Metrorail, Ludlam Trail‘s multi-use 6.2-mile trail within the former Florida East Cost railway right-of-way, Plan Z‘s proposal to convert Rickenbacker Causeway to Rickenbacker Park, the Venetian Causeway, and riverside’s Miami River Greenway and Miami Riverwalk, are all set to give birth to a bicycle and pedestrian friendly loop in line with the shared vision of the city and the county. These efforts should help reduce the number of annual bicycle injuries and fatalities. Miami-Dade County Traffic Crash Data show, in 2014 alone, almost 1,000 bicycle injuries—probably more when considering that most bicycle accidents are not reported—and 18 bicycle fatalities, one of the largest in the nation. I dream of a future in which these numbers fade away.
With that in mind, during the months of March, April and May, I rode the streets of Miami with the active purpose of getting a better understanding of the situation. I recorded all my rides with a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet, engaged in an endless amount of roadside conversations with drivers and cyclists alike, filled my notebook with daydreamy notes and doodles, and interviewed people with different stands and agendas. Two unexpected happenings marked my experience.
Some states, like Idaho, allow cyclists to stop at a red light, and then simply yield to all other traffic before getting going. Many other states, including Florida, require that cyclists stop and do not go anywhere until the light is green. I—almost—always wait until the light is green. One afternoon, after a long day at work, I was stopped at a red light when a father and his son flew right through it. I heard cursing from the car behind me. A convertible. Once green, it did not take me much to catch up with them. “Why?” I asked. Somehow, during these past months, I found ways to turn what would be seen as confrontational by many, into constructive and friendly exchanges. We agreed there is a better way. Whether we like it or not, we all cyclists are bicycle advocates when we are out and about. The little things matter when we are constantly scrutinized on the road. As I have already stated somewhere before, interacting with other road users is a dance we lead. In Miami, for now, we are considered to be the newcomers, and we need to lead through example while, at the same time, fight for what is right.
On the days the City of Miami Solid Waste Department provides residential garbage collection along Tigertail Avenue, I take the full lane. Bicycles may take the full lane any day but I always tend to facilitate drivers’ way as much as possible. It was early on the day, and I was on my way to work. And then, it happened. A driver, behind me, started honking her horn aggressively. I understand we all want to make it to work on time but there was nowhere for me to go, until it was. I, then, pulled to the side, and noticed the car did not immediately speed up, which usually means the driver has something to tell or show me. I do not usually shy away from those confrontations, more so when I am unquestionably right. I slowly turned my mean face to the side looking for the driver. Her face went from rage to shame in a second—so did mine from mean to incredulity. We had met before. A couple of times. At random gatherings. And although we had only exchanged a couple of words, I am sure we shared a mostly positive impression of each other.
Do we, somehow, become a different person when we drive our cars? When we ride our bicycles? I fear so. We take on a different persona. We are ready to become defensive. We are ready for war. The idea of cars versus bicycles runs deep. We tend to forget roads are not a place of conflict but a place of transit. A place for cars and bicycles and pedestrians. A place for people to go from point A to point B. We do not just need bicycle friendly roads, what we need, first and foremost, are friendly roads. Hence, Friendly Ways.
Friendly Ways would be a complementary approach to transit. A coalition that celebrates our shared spaces whether you navigate them by car, by motorcycle, by bicycle, by foot or by public transportation. A coalition that would advocate for and celebrate friendlier behaviors from all and towards all when on the road.