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County Bikers, Beware PDF Print E-mail
Written by Francisco Alvarado, BT Contributor   
August 2017

High accident rates prompt several hazard maps

A BikeCrash_1tall, husky fellow with broad shoulders and deep blue eyes, Brickell attorney David Heffernan puts in between 75 and 130 miles a week on his bicycle. “I’ve been cycling for 15 years,” he tells the BT. “I haven’t had any close calls yet, thank God. But I’ve ridden with groups where other cyclists have had a close call.”

And as personal-injury attorney, Heffernan has represented dozens of cycling crash victims and the families of bicyclers who didn’t survive a close call with a moving vehicle. As a witness to the perils of cycling in Miami-Dade -- which leads the state in the number of annual bike crashes -- Heffernan and his law partner, Mark Kaire, took it upon themselves to create a map that shows just how hazardous are the streets of Miami-Dade County for people using two-wheeled, leg-powered modes of transportation. On June 28, Heffernan and Kaire posted their map on a blog that is part of their law firm’s website. (www.kairelaw.com/bicycle-accidents/miami-crashes-map)

“The whole purpose of putting this map together was to educate drivers and cyclists about the dangers of cycling in Miami-Dade,” Heffernan says. “Any time we have data or information regarding cycling, we try to disseminate that information.”

To make the map, Heffernan’s law firm hired a programmer who plugged in each bicycle crash site in Miami-Dade between 2012 and 2016, using data compiled by the state Department of Motor Vehicles’ Florida Integrated Report Exchange System, or FIRES. According to queries on the FIRES online portal, the highest number of bike crashes in Miami-Dade during the four-year period occurred in 2014, when 989 accidents were reported. Of those, 18 resulted in deaths.

BikeCrash_2The numbers declined to 895 and 759 bicycle crashes in 2015 and 2016, respectively. During those two years, 34 accidents involved a fatality. Through the first seven months of 2017, there have been 454 bicycle accidents and six deaths. (https://firesportal.com/Pages/Public/QuickStats.aspx)
The Kaire/Heffernan map features thousands of small, color-coded dots that open pop-up bubbles when clicked.

The bubbles identify the location of the crash, the date of the accident, the gender of the cyclist, and if an injury occurred. Purple dots represent crashes in which the cyclist was not incapacitated or seriously injured, pink dots represent crashes that left a cyclist incapacitated, and red dots indicate fatalities.

“We found it curious that the accidents are pretty spread out in Miami-Dade,” Heffernan says. “There’s not one spot that gets hits more than others on the map.”

Of course, Kaire and Heffernan are not the first Floridians to tackle the ambitious task of compiling bicycle crash statistics into a cohesive map. But other geographical surveys, in contrast to Heffernan’s observation, do show that denser neighborhoods tend to have larger clusters of bicycle accidents.

In March 2015, the Southwest Florida daily News-Press published an eight-part investigative report documenting a plethora of data that explained why the Sunshine State ranks as the worst in the nation for bicycle accidents, including a map that identified crash hotspots in heavy-traffic areas of Naples, Immokalee, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers.

Five months later, the blog Miami Geographics created nine “heat maps” to illustrate the intensity of bicycle crashes in Miami-Dade from 2005 to 2013. The data showed that denser neighborhoods, like South Beach, tend to have a disproportionate share of bicycle accidents. (https://miamigeographic.com/2015/07/15/bicycle-crashes-in-miami-dade-county-2005-2013)

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Both the News-Press and Miami Geographics relied heavily on the report exchange system data Kaire and Heffernan used for their map. “It’s the most comprehensive, and it’s what we used for mapping, too,” says Janine Zeitlin, the News-Press reporter who researched and wrote the bike accident series. “I was responsible for organizing and cleaning up the Excel data, but our tech guy mapped it.”

After taking a look at the Kaire/Heffernan map, Zeitlin says it appears to be accurate. “I’m not sure of their software process from translating the FIRES data to the map,” she notes, “but it looks like they used ESRI, which is reliable.”

However, two Miami bicycle activists were more skeptical about the Kaire/Heffernan map. Eli Stiers, another personal-injury attorney who sits on a 19-member county task force charged with developing an action plan to improve the safety of Miami-Dade streets, says maps that simply use FIRES crash data don’t take into account such factors as how a cyclist or a motorist were behaving prior to the crash, or if there was a problem with the design of an intersection where an accident occurred.

“On its face, it’s rather broad,” Stiers says of the Kaire/Heffernan map. “Without drilling further down into the causes, it’s not the most accurate representation of any one individual crash or series of crashes.”

Stiers notes the task force he sits on is using FIRES, along with other sources, such as data Miami-Dade purchases from the mobile running and cycling application Strava, to address county guidelines for roadway design and construction. “Strava shows you where most cyclists are traveling,” Stiers says. “So it’s no surprise [the Strava] heat maps line up pretty well with hotspots for crash zones.” (http://labs.strava.com/heatmap/#7/-83.19397/27.61541/blue/bike)  

BikeCrash_4

Yet recreational and commuter cyclists don’t need maps to know that Miami-Dade streets present a treacherous environment for them, he adds. “I appreciate what [Kaire and Heffernan] have done,” says Stiers, who is also an avid cyclist. “But it’s obvious that Miami-Dade is one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians and cyclists. The data always bears that out.”

Sue Kawalerski, president of the Everglades Bicycle Club and head of the county’s Bike305 program, echoes Stiers as far as relying on maps that take into account more than one source of information. Kawalerski says the county’s Transportation Planning Organization (formerly known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization) contracts consultants who aggregate data from various sources when evaluating the worst bicycle crash locations. “I can definitely tell you that this data [on the Kaire/Heffernan map] looks different to me from what I saw six months ago from the TPO,” she says. “Truthfully, I rely on the TPO’s information more than any of these others that are based on one source.”

She also has Strava installed on her smartphone. “Generally speaking, I can click off the most dangerous areas in Miami-Dade based on the most frequently used routes [that appear on Strava,]” Kawalerski says. “As a regular cyclist, I can absolutely confirm what Strava shows me.”

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Furthermore, it appears the Kaire/Heffernan map is not 100 percent accurate, based on a random sample of 11 incidents compiled in FIRES. Biscayne Times could not locate ten locations on the map identified in the FIRES spreadsheet provided by the law firm’s media relations manager, Sam Maher. On the map, the 11th incident was located 50 blocks south from where it actually occurred.

In an e-mail response, Maher relayed a message from the software developer who worked on the map: “Please note that there were lots of data points without coordinates. ...The precisions were not great and some of the locations could not be geocoded, so bear in mind the dots could be misplaced in some cases.”

Heffernan says he’s not going to dispute any inaccuracies Biscayne Times found with his map. “It’s certainly not intentional,” he says. “We aren’t trying to mislead anybody. It’s just a matter of getting the information out there.”

The ultimate goal, Heffernan says, is to make motorists and cyclists aware of danger zones in Miami-Dade, and to take rules of the road seriously. “Unfortunately, we represent a lot of people who get into these types of accidents,” he says. “We would like to have less of these cases.”

 

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