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Written by Francisco Alvarado, BT Contributor   
January 2020

Miami streets and causeways are a danger to non-motorists

PCauseway_1edaling against a hard wind, I maneuver my bicycle inside the white line that delineates the very thin shoulder on the eastbound roadway of the Shepard Broad Causeway connecting North Miami to Bay Harbor Islands. On an overcast Friday afternoon in mid-December, automobile traffic is moving at a brisk pace.

Three large SUVS -- a BMW X6, an Audi Q3, and a Mercedes Benz GLE -- zoom past me as the shoulder disappears about 30 yards away from the Chevron gas station before the drawbridge onto Kane Concourse, the affluent town’s main artery. On the westbound side, another cyclist cautiously stays as close as possible to the grassy terrain that runs along the asphalt. A cargo van and four cars rumble by him.

It’s much worse for anyone crossing the Broad Causeway on foot, as there is no sidewalk on either side. Addressing the dangerous conditions has been a crusade for local resident Alain Rodriguez, who’s been hounding Bay Harbor Islands officials to make the roadway safer for pedestrians and cyclists for the past two years. Rodriguez didn’t respond to multiple e-mails and phone messages seeking an interview, but a series of complaints he’s sent town council members and administrators since November 2017 document the harrowing experience non-motorists face on the Broadway Causeway.

On December 5, 2019, in his most recent e-mail, Rodriguez lambasted Bay Harbor Islands elected leaders for inaction. “I was hit on the elbow by a car’s side-mirror while riding my bike on the island road,” Rodriguez wrote. “Riding a bike or walking on this road is a life threatening exercise.... Again, two years of e-mails and follow ups. Nothing so far.”

Causeway_2Town Councilman Jordan Leonard, who touts his record creating initiatives that promote bicycle use and safety in Bay Harbor Islands, claims Rodriguez’s criticisms are unwarranted since the town has been working on a plan to widen the road on the causeway and add pedestrian/bicycle lanes in both directions.

“I take the safety of all residents and visitors seriously,” Leonard tells Biscayne Times. “It has taken a while, but we were able to redirect about $1.2 million in federal monies left over from a project to repair the drawbridge.”

At its January meeting, the town council is scheduled to vote on awarding a contract for the resurfacing and widening project, according to town manager J.C. Jimenez. He tells the BT that the project required approval from the Florida Department of Transportation, which administers the project funds and has oversight over the Broad Causeway.

“We had to go through a local agency partner certification,” Jimenez says. “We had to get into compliance with federal guidelines and follow federal bidding requirements. That took a long time.” Jimenez adds that if the council approves the contract, the project should begin in the spring.

The drawn-out process to create a safe space for non-motorists has been the primary source of frustration for Rodriguez. On October 26, 2018, for example, he groused about the lack of sidewalks.

“Creating sidewalks on the west side of the [draw]bridge is a simple project,” he wrote. “It is beyond me how this is still not done. You used to have a partial sidewalk. This was removed and it is now covered with grass and an uneven surface that is not walkable when wet and at night.”

The Broad Causeway’s non-existent bicycle lanes and sidewalks are a microcosm of the dangers facing pedestrians and cyclists throughout Miami-Dade County, assert advocates for multiple modes of transit. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolis ranked No. 14 among deadliest U.S. cities for pedestrians in the 2019 “Dangerous By Design” report from Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

A 2018 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on data from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, found Miami had 5.6 per capita deaths related to fatal bike crashes, fourth behind Tampa-St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, and Orlando in a state that was ranked the nation’s deadliest for cyclists.

Harry Emilio Gottlieb, a Miami bicycle activist who rides about 150 miles a week, says it’s taken the cycling community five years to have non-slip bike lanes installed on all drawbridges maintained by the state transportation department and Miami-Dade County. The lobbying effort began in 2013 and work didn’t begin on the first drawbridge until two years later, Gottlieb says.

Each year he and some of his cycling friends will ride two or three times to the Hollywood Boardwalk and pass through North Miami, Bay Harbor Islands, and Bal Harbour via the Broad Causeway. “Our early-morning Sunday rides are enjoyable with relatively light car traffic,” Gottlieb says. “Needless to say, the conditions would be a little safer with additional bike lanes, especially if they were painted green and separated from traffic.”

A big reason Florida is a dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists has to do with FDOT holding on to outdated street and sidewalk design standards, says Tony Garcia, a Miami-based urban planner who sits on the director’s board of the Green Mobility Network. “They’re using standards that are automobile oriented and for rural roads where people don’t bike much,” Garcia says. “They apply that standard for causeways where a vast number of people [crossing] are either cycling, walking, or using mass transit.”

The department has begun to make a few concessions, but not enough to encourage pedestrian and bicycle activity, Garcia says. Miami-Dade’s Department of Transportation and Public Works also shares a big part of the blame for county roads and municipal streets under its purview, he adds. “The county uses standards that prioritize moving cars fast, instead of slowing them down,” he says. “There is a culture change happening, but it is very slow going.”

Councilman Leonard says he has a very personal stake in making the Broad Causeway safer. “I was actually hurt riding a bike on the island as a kid,” he says. “A car hit me and I fell down. My chin popped open and you could see all the way to the bone. I got 18 stitches.”

During his time on the council, Leonard says, he spearheaded several measures to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. For instance, he sponsored legislation creating a green path on one of the town’s two isles, East Island, that provided a dedicated lane for cyclists and pedestrians. When his colleagues appointed him town mayor from 2016 to 2018, Bay Harbor reduced the causeway road from four lanes to two lanes when the town converted from a toll system to SunPass, Leonard adds. “This change helped eliminate the most dangerous portion of our roadway, which in the past, had injured numerous individuals, including a bicyclist who needed to be airlifted due to serious injuries,” he says.

In 2016, Leonard says, he lobbied Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to support a federal bill that redirected the $1.2 million left over from the drawbridge repair project for resurfacing and expanding the causeway to add pedestrian and bicycle lanes. “The permanent scar on my face is a lifetime reminder that we must protect those who walk and ride bicycles throughout our town,” he says. “I have made it my mantra to make Bay Harbor Islands more sustainable, which includes the need to increase walking and use of bicycles and the decrease of our dependence on cars.”

 

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